Kevin Costner's Latest Heroic Role: Oil-Spill Cleaner-Upper

Last Updated May 20, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Environmental disasters tend to attract actors and celebs like cheap wine draws lushes. Weirdly, though, it looks like two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner may actually have something of value to offer toward cleaning up the Gulf oil spill.

It is, however, all about as unlikely as the plot of Waterworld. A famous actor angered by the Exxon Valdez spill teams up with his scientist brother to come up with a cleanup solution, knowing it'll be needed someday. Fifteen years later, oil gushes out of the seabed and into the Gulf as experts watch their deep sea robots and giant underwater domes fail to contain the spill. Suddenly, the actor and his scientists leap to the rescue with their new invention: a massive centrifuge for separating oil and water.

Far-fetched, to be sure. But it also happens to be true.

Last week, the actor was in New Orleans giving the media a glimpse of a centrifuge machine designed by a team of scientists Costner hired following the Valdez spill. Costner has plowed some $26 million into Ocean Therapy Solutions, the company that developed the machine. And Costner's efforts appear to have paid off. BP, the owner of the deep water well, said this week it has agreed to test the device and six of the machines will be sent out into the Gulf.

The machine works on the principle of centrifugal force. Oil and water enter the machine together and are jettisoned separately. The machine will clean the water up to 97 percent and its largest model can clean up to 200 gallons a minute.

Costner isn't the only one offering up solutions, by the way. BP and officials at the spill response command center have been soliciting ideas on how to stop the spill through Facebook, Twitter and the Deepwater Horizon Response Web site for a couple of weeks now. Which has done little to boost confidence in BP or the other brilliant scientists you'd expect to be part of this operation.

Cynicism aside, crowd-sourcing ideas can work, although it can also be unwieldy. The folks at the Deepwater Horizon Response command center have to sift through the thousands of "just put a cork in it" and "line the beach with pillow" ideas before they hopefully encounter something worthwhile.

Photo of Kevin Costner from Wikimedia See additional BNET coverage of the oil spill: