Hot Air calls our attention to another depressing story of how bureaucratic inefficiency in the government is slowing the Gulf oil clean-up. It's the story of a ship, called the A Whale (pronounced like "A Team"), designed to skim oil from sea water at a rate of 500,000 barrels of water a day. If it works as designed it could accomplish as much clean-up in a day and a half as has been done by other means in 66 days. So why is it just now sailing for the Gulf? Bureaucratic red tape:
Built in South Korea as a supertanker for transporting oil and iron ore, the six-month-old vessel was refitted in the wake of the BP oil spill with 12, 16-foot-long intake vents on the sides of its bow designed to skim oil off surface waters.
The vessel's billionaire owner, Nobu Su, the CEO of Taiwanese shipping company TMT Group, said the ship would float across the Gulf "like a lawn mower cutting the grass," ingesting up to 500,000 barrels of oil-contaminated water a day.
But a number of hurdles stand in his way. TMT officials said the company does not yet have government approval to assist in the cleanup or a contract with BP to perform the work.
That's part of the reason the ship was tied to pier at the Virginia Port Authority's Norfolk International Terminals Friday morning. TMT and its public-relations agency invited scores of media, elected officials and maritime industry executives to an hour-long presentation about how the ship could provide an immediate boost to clean-up efforts in the Gulf.
TMT also paid to fly in Edward Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, to get a look at the massive skimmer.
Overton blasted BP and the federal government for a lack of effort and coordination in their dual oil-spill response and made a plea to the government to allow the A Whale to join the cleanup operation.
"We need this ship. We need this help," Overton said. "That oil is already contaminating our shoreline. We've got to get the ship out there and see if it works. There's only one way to find out: Get the damn thing in the gulf and we'll see."
"This concept has never been tried before," said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer. "But we think we can do in maybe in a day and a half what these other crews have done in 66 days. We see the A Whale as adding another layer to the recovery effort."
To join the fight, the ship also might require separate waivers from the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The A Whale - pronounced along the lines of "A Team" because there is a "B Whale" coming - is designed to work 20 to 50 miles offshore where smaller skimmers have trouble navigating. The ship would take in oily water and transfer it into specialized storage tanks on the flanks of the vessel. From there, the oil-fouled seawater would be pumped into internal tanks where the oil would separate naturally from the water.
After the separation process, the oil would be transferred to other tankers or shore-based facilities while the remaining water would be pumped back into the gulf.
Because the process wouldn't remove all traces of oil from the seawater, TMT will likely have to gain a special permit from the EPA, said Scott H. Segal of the Washington lobbying firm, Bracewell &Giuliani, which TMT has retained to help negotiate with federal regulators.
"The simple answer is, we don't know what the discharge will look like until we can take A Whale out there and test it," Segal said. TMT will work with regulators to determine an appropriate level of oil that can be contained in the ship's discharge.
TMT is also working with the Coast Guard to gain approval to operate in the gulf, which may require a waiver from a 90-year-old maritime act that restricts foreign-flagged vessels from operating in U.S. waters, said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer.
So what's the hold-up? Does the EPA think that the gulf will be worse off after the A Whale has processed the polluted water than it was before processing it? Why can't President Obama just tell his people to waive all restrictions that would prevent anyone from contributing to the effort to clean the Gulf? When is the media going to insist that he explain why these kinds of bureaucratic hold-ups are allowed to persist while the Gulf ecosystem, and people's livelihoods, are suffering so much damage?RLC