Alpacas, Beer, Pantyhose and Hay: Low-Tech Approaches To Oil Spill Cleanup

It’s been a little hard to watch the disaster that has continued to unfold seemingly in slow motion in the Gulf of Mexico, primarily because the average person is powerless to do anything except read the grisly details. Though most of us didn’t know what “top kill” meant just a few weeks ago, we now at least DO know that it didn’t work. “Top hat boxes” don’t seem to have done much better. But after the spew ceases (and some sources estimate the drilled site is still releasing one million gallons of oil per day), the years-long clean-up will begin. The use of toxic dispersal chemicals have been raising some concerns. BP is currently using the chemical dispersants Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527, which many fear will make a bad environmental situation worse. Experts have already opined that these two commonly used dispersal chemicals are more toxic than available alternatives. During the cleanup from the Exxon Valdez spill, the Alaska Community Action on Toxins indicated that the use of these chemicals caused “respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders in people.”

Nice, huh?

Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen acknowledged in an interview last week that it may take until the autumn just to control the spread of the slick across four states, and that cleanup to mitigate the impact of the spill on the marshes, beaches and wildlife of the Gulf Coast may take years. “This is a long campaign and we’re going to be dealing with this for the foreseeable future,” he said. “It’s the breadth and complexity of the disaggregation of the oil that is now posing the greatest cleanup challenge.”

Currently, according to the New York Times, 1,500 vessels have been fitted with skimmers to try and collect some of the oil before it can spread to beaches.

But there are some who don’t seem content to sit and watch.

A viral video that appeared on YouTube a few weeks ago has led to a campaign proposing a low-tech, green solution for cleaning up the oil: hay. The idea of using hay to clean up oil may or may not be a new one, but it was at the forefront of the mind of Darryl Carpenter, a vice president for C.W. Roberts, a Tallahassee-based road contractor company. The company had used hay in the past to clean up excess tar during road work. Thinking he might be on to something, Carpenter asked one of his subcontractors to test his theory. Turns out, it worked, as Carpenter and the subcontractor, Otis Goodson, demonstrate in this video recorded at the Walton County, Florida Sheriff’s office.

Essentially, the hay is tossed into the water, where wave action mixes it with the oil. The oil sticks to the hay, at which time workers could skim it off the surface with nets (Carpenter imagines getting shrimp boats to assist with the removal). In a worst-case scenario, according to Carpenter, if the oil-sticky hay washes up on shore, it can be collected off beaches with equipment designed to pick up seaweed.

And then what to do with it? “Burn it for energy,” says Carpenter.

According to Carpenter, he has performed his demo for executives at BP but has yet to hear back from them on a decision. Said Carpenter, “”We’ve got boats ready to go. We’re just waiting on the go-ahead from BP and the Coast Guard. I’m hoping they at least let us try it out to see if it’ll work.” Carpenter has already reportedly asked permission of both BP and the Coast Guard to do a test run on a 10-acre site in Gulf Waters, but has yet to get an approval.

But at least someone is listening. Walton County, Florida, which has 26 miles of coastline in the Florida Panhandle, has already initiated a plan, via a contract with C.W. Roberts, to clean up any oil that might come its way, using Carpenter’s hay method. County officials have reportedly purchased hundreds of bales of hay that it is prepared to blow into the water should the oil begin to approach beaches.

Other green ideas to disperse the oil, including one that involved the collection of 450,000 pounds of human and dog hair (and possibly even llama and alpaca hair) stuffed into pantyhose to make “hair booms” seem to have largely fallen by the wayside (possibly due to questionable success or possibly due to BP’s unwillingness to do little else than spend money on slick PR campaigns designed to try and convince the public they are not greedy and soulless), despite the donation of 37,000 pairs of pantyhose by Hanes (in any case, you have to give them props for the effort).

Senator Chuck Grassley has offered his Beer Option. “I think that there’s alternatives to soaking up oil that have not been used yet,” said Grassley. “There’s a process for making beer – I don’t know if it’s the yeast or what it is in making beer. You can put those microscopic things on oil and they die, and all you’ve got is some methane gas left.” While Grassley’s grasp of science is shaky and his beer analogy weird, there is some theoretical evidence that microbes might be used to basically eat the oil.

But beer, alpacas, pantyhose and hair aside, there is some evidence that the hay idea has been used, with success, before. The Huffington Post reported that hay was used in the clean-up of an oil spill in the ocean near Santa Monica, California in 1969, used entirely by volunteers who boated the hay bales to the slick, tossed it in with pitchforks, and then scooped it up with nets or collected it off the beach.

In the meantime, Carpenter remains optimistic that his solution will work. “This is about as green and simple as it gets.”

– Tracey Schelmetic


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  • Ras
    June 15, 2010

    First and most importantly, Grassley, stay away from my beer!

    With that said, your anti-BP bias is clear. This is tragic but it is an accident. For 50 to 60 years we have been drilling in deep water without incident. Unfortunately accidents do happen. You don’t want them to and you try to avoid them but they do. Some from unintentional human error, some from bad intentions and some based on the mathematical concept of the chaos theory. Whatever it is they happen.

    To make BP the bad guy here without a true investigation of the facts is bad journalism. I do not hear anyone complaining about government regulations that pushed drilling into the deep water where it is more complicated and more risky. This was a government decision not a business decision. Where is the commentary about how Obama, who by the way was a big critic of Bush during Katrina, has proven once again that government cannot solve all our problems? If anything they make them worse.

    We need to have level heads on this issue. If BP is criminally responsible then they should hang. If not, then let’s look to our government and the regulations that are destructive and are only there to pander to the special interests.

    On the issue of these creative ideas, did you know that there is an idea hotline hosted by the Coast Guard for creative ideas on how to fix this problem? These ideas are looked at and evaluated based on scientific and practical measurements. Or do you also have a problem with our service men and women who are trying to solve the problem.

    Now on your statement “BP’s unwillingness to do little else than spend money on slick PR campaigns designed to try and convince the public they are not greedy and soulless,” maybe if Obama and the politicians stopped the attacks for political gain which is hurting BP stock prices even more than the spill (what we forget here is how many pension plans and jobs are reliant on BP) BP would not have to spend the money on PR. What is soulless and definitely greedy are the politicians and press using this crisis for personal gain (“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel).

    Now Tracey, I am not accusing you of being a shill for the White House and the extremist environmental movement. What I would be interested in is facts on both sides.

    • Al L. Host
      June 15, 2010

      Finally some rational thinking. Why are the corporations always the bad guys. All corporations are are people. Most of the people wanting to do a good job and provide for their families. Some of the people wanting to achieve success. And a very small minority, as in any group, that are not very nice. Stop the demonizing, stop the madness. Just work together to fix the problem.

      • Tracey Schelmetic
        June 15, 2010

        And Al, corporations may or may not be “people,” but even assuming for the moment that they are: if a person were to flout the law and cause a disaster that required taxpayers to fix it, and endangered the livelihood of tens of thousands of people, he or she would be criminally liable.

        “And a very small minority, as in any group, that are not very nice.”

        And in those circumstances, it is the c-level executives’ jobs to remove those people before they bring the company and the community down. BP did not.

  • Tracey Schelmetic
    June 15, 2010

    Hi, Ras. As far as I’m concerned, an “accident” is when something happens and you fix it quick. A month and half long uncontrolled oil spill that you have no idea and no ability to deal with means you are operating far, far beyond your capacity to control your actions, which is very bad business. When you sink the company, the stock holders and share holders and the profits, not to mention cause damage on a trans-continental basis, this is corporate terrorism, not an unfortunate accident and incompetence of the highest order, and you don’t deserve to be allowed to continue to do business.

    • Ras
      June 15, 2010


      I love it when liberals are questioned. They react incoherently with great emotion to make their point. First of all, let’s define accident. “An accident is a specific, identifiable, unexpected, unusual and unintended external action which occurs in a particular time and place, without apparent or deliberate cause but with marked effects.” Nothing in the definition of accident relates to the expediency of a resolution to the problem. Just as a car accident that results in a death, though the car maybe fixed over time the loss of life is still permanent, it is still an accident.

      On your point “A month and half long uncontrolled oil spill that you have no idea and no ability to deal with means you are operating far, far beyond your capacity to control your actions, which is very bad business,” Are you discounting the decades of success without a major incident? Why don’t you address the government regulation that has pushed these rigs out to deep water? Are you also ready to deal with the job losses and disastrous economic impact to the Gulf region if we stop drilling? You are making an emotional defense of your position devoid of fact, which again is very liberal of you.

      On your next point of corporate terrorism, I agree, what the White House, politicians and journalists are committing is corporate terrorism by demonizing business which unless you are writing out of the goodness of your heart is paying your bills. If you have been following BP stock prices you will find they are being greatly impacted by rhetoric from the White House and not making our friends in the UK too happy. So much for a better face to our international brethren.

      Also, when you get emotional your spelling and grammar go to hell in a hand basket.


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