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Tuesday August 14th 2018

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Closing the Book on Costner

BP paid actor $52 million for useless invention
By Tony D’Souza

When Kevin Costner and his centrifuge machines stepped onto the stage during last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil had been spewing for nearly a month. Internet message boards seethed with frustrated people asking why the well couldn’t be cemented shut, nuked, stuffed with golf balls. BP had been reduced to soliciting solutions from at-home inventors, and industry regulators had utterly failed on their watch.

Suddenly a movie star was going to save the Gulf? The late night talk show hosts ran with it: Letterman, Kimmel and Ferguson all cracked Costner jokes.  Jon Stewart best articulated the skepticism with this one-liner: “If Kevin Costner has a machine that cleans up disasters, why didn’t he use it on “3000 Miles to Graceland?”

Even Jimmy Fallon took a swipe: “[Y]esterday, BP ordered 32 oil-separating machines designed by Kevin Costner. Costner said, all along, a voice kept telling him, ‘If you build it and there’s a huge oil spill and the oil company and government have absolutely no idea whatsoever how to clean it up, they will come.’”

The uselessness of Costner’s machines has since been widely documented. They only access surface water, can’t reach submerged oil, and never had a chance of making any dent in the crisis. The actor ran his demonstrations using diesel, not oil, and, in the words of MIT’s Jerry Milgram, “It would take thousands of the machines to make any difference.”

The Guardian’s Leo Hickman was most scathing, writing on June 17, 2010, “[The machine] sounds impressive, but just how much water is there in the Gulf of Mexico?

643,000,000,000,000,000 gallons… Just how long would it take Costner’s machine to rid the Gulf of Mexico of its oil? 6.1 BILLION years.” Hickman then said Costner’s machines would burn more oil in operation than they’d collect.

Though the actor was adamant during his months-long national media junket that he was “not just hocking [my] stuff,” it’s now apparent that he was. Beginning in 1993, Costner gambled $24 million of his own “after taxes” money on developing patented centrifuge technology he’d acquired from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory.

At last year’s Aspen Environment Forum in late July, he again couched his motives in quasi-religious terms, describing how he had awaken “from a dream state after the Exxon Valdez” feeling “at a loss,” and began a search for a way to “separate oil and water at high speeds.”

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