June 23rd, 2010
01:03 PM ET

Tons of oil collected with homemade invention

Several shrimp boats troll the waters off the Florida panhandle – an odd sight these days, since fishing has been banned in the area.

But these vessels are not looking for shrimp: they are hunting oil on the surface of the water.  And soon, these boats will be outfitted with a homemade contraption that can pick up tons of the stuff in just a few hours.

Boat captain Gerry Matherne,  a second-generation oil industry veteran and a contractor for BP, invented the contraption.  He is using his invention to help clean up the oil leaking from the damaged well following the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

"We tried it and after the first attempt we collected two tons in few hours," Matherne said, laughing in surprise. "[We said] 'Well we've got ourselves a winner here'."

He is leading a team of boat captains who are part of BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program that pays out-of-work boat captains to help clean up the oil. Matherne’s task force is cleaning up the waters from the Florida-Alabama state line to Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Matherne is no stranger to oil spills. He worked his first spill near the Bay of Campeche off Mexico in 1979 and the Exxon Valdez in 1989.

The ship captain is now leading the task force in spotting, skimming and removing oil from the water’s surface.

When he first saw that the weathered, dense oil in the Gulf did not float well, he realized this spill was different: the elusive oil would sink and resurface.

“Traditional skimming would not be highly effective with this,” said Matherne. "It's forcing us to think out of the box."

So he designed a new oil skimmer, purchasing parts for a local hardware store with his own money.  He had a local seamstress sew heavy mesh from the hardware store into a bag suspended around a PVC pipe frame.

The concept was to skim and capture the oil at the same time.  On its initial test, the bags collected oil that later congealed into a giant two-ton tar ball. 

The skimmer even collected the oil sheen.  It was so successful that BP is building the frame and bag design. The new skimmers should be delivered in the coming weeks.

"It exceeded our expectations," said Matherne.  "We were very excited,"  . 

Matherne is determined to protect the shoreline.  With the excitement of a young man, the captain describes how he visualizes the long outriggers on multiple shrimp boats lined with the skimmers he designed:

"Can you imagine sweeping 80 feet in a continuous 24 hours a day?"  Matherne said. "I can collect a lot."

Matherne says he wasn't trying to be an inventor but the manuals on skimming weren't written for a spill occurring 5,000 feet underwater.

"I was faced with a problem and I was trying to solve it," he said.

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Ian

    Not to be a downer on this subject... but, seriously? It took us that long to invent a net? Wow, I'm disgusted to know that no one had thought of this before. If I hadn't figured it was an extraordinarily, painfully obvious approach that was already being used, I'd have spoken up earlier.

    June 24, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      To Joe above: I also agree there should be a reward to those who become heroes in situations like this. Even though my last post was negative about the subject, I would like to say I am INCREDIBLY grateful, and ecstatic that a new method of oil collection and cleanup has surfaced.

      June 24, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Captain Nemo

    BP is a wonderful, charitable company that will save the world.

    If this gets posted and the less-BP-approving comment I've been trying to enter all afternoon never turns up, we can all understand that content IS pre-screened on this site...

    June 24, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Captain Nemo

      Piece by piece?

      Most drilling regulations are a joke (thanks to the politicians of BOTH parties who rolled over for the oil industry), BP has repeatedly ignored or subverted existing regulations (BP has more citations for breaching safety and other regulations than its peer companies by TWO POWERS OF TEN, more than 100 versus 5 or 6), and the BP plans and equipment in place for disaster remediation existed only on paper (exactly the way Exxon/Aleyska set things up in Prince William sound).

      June 24, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Captain Nemo

      – 2 –

      It's apparent that the only way the oil industry will get the message is when the financial realities are shoved up their noses, ruthlessly and repeatedly. So, let's do just that, starting with BP.

      June 24, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Captain Nemo

      Will this post?

      June 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • CTYank

      Seems more than a few, predominantly leaning kinda parallel, are paranoid about being filtered out.
      Seems some number of initial postings by a user are stupidly/incompetently dropped, with no reason given.
      We can't all be heard all the time, nor rule the gummint for that matter, but we can try to relax.

      June 24, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Frank

    kudos to that dude...but let me ask you one thing....why isn't that Dyson dude (the vacuum one) coming out with an enormous sucker attached to a tanker...there ar s many ways to get that stinking oil out of the water but nobody seems to care..well i guess BP blocks it anyway.....

    June 24, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • gary provencher

      everyone knows that Dyson vacuums are so powerful that the vortex created would cause earthquakes in China. We can't let that happen (can we?).

      June 25, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. richard

    Blame the Bush administration. The whole family has deep ties in the oil business here and overseas. Guess how much money they have made since the war and all the offshore drilling that was approved by that administration. Yes the Regan era did allow oil companies to drill offshore with many restrictions but the Bush administration eased those restrictions because the oil companies complained that it made drilling too difficult and not profitable. Again who made money in this deal? They ruined the US and now they are sitting back and claiming their rewards in the high oil prices.

    June 25, 2010 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dub

    I don't see why the oil industry continues to get bashed. I don't see anyone anywhere going to any gas station and being told that there is no supply. All the stuff from teddy bears to sides of beef for sunday dinner are delivered to your local mall-grocery whatever so you can have what you want when you want it, using gas/diesel fuels. And it is cheap.

    Step back and take a look at what technologies, resources and capital investments are being made everday in this industry to brink that tank of fuel to you when you need to get junior to the soccer field.

    We won't even go to the world of better living through chemistry much of which are created using petroleum based feedstocks.

    You don't want to support the oil industry in America, stop consuming. Stop eating, drinking water from bottles, watching TV, wearing synthetic clothing, treating for bugs in your house, etc.

    We demand enormous things from this industry and they go to incredible lengths to supply us with what we want. So they make a profit, Goldman Sachs makes profits and I dare say you cannot name one thing that they supply to you that you can thank them for.

    Put on your steel toed shoes or go ride on a Seismic Exploration Rig looking for that next place to drill and see what your demand for a tank of gasoline requires them to do.

    We are all spoiled rotten babies who do not deserve many if not most of what we have because instead of earning it we think it is our God give right to have what we want when we want it.

    June 25, 2010 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. tinraleigh

    This is horrible!!! It's going to kill jobs! It's going to raise taxes! It's going to ADD TO THE DEFICIT!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 25, 2010 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  7. Frank M

    We can blame Obama for not allowing the many countries with skimming equipment to come and help us. The Jones act
    which could have been lifted by executive order immediately and would have let these many other countries help was not lifted by Obama. Why you may ask. Unions did not want it lifted and Obamas is owned lock stock and barrel by unions. They want to get there hands on the clean up money and get the union workers with high pay in on the gold rush of the clean up.

    June 25, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  8. Fishin'For'Oil

    Instead of pointlessly blaming either President, both whom I feel are partially at fault, I feel it is my civic duty to let the world know that the real fault lies comnpletely with my exwife. Her ability to ruin everything is now being seen on a global scale.

    June 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dan

    FRANK M Says Obama is owned lock stock and barrel by the unions Yes Frank, and the GOP IS OWNED LOCK STOCK AND BARREL BY BIG BUSINESS AND THE OIL COMPANIES WHOSE DEREGULATION AND NONE ENFORCEMENT OF SAFETY RULES LED TO THIS DISASTER. What planet are you living in???????????????

    June 25, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dan

    HERE IS A Man who saw a problem and did what intelligent pople do, he put his brain to work and came up with a better way to clean this mess up.I watch with frustration as i see BPS attempt to clean up the beaches with shovels and plastic kitchen bags.How a bout a wide specialy designed rake pulled by a tractor to rake in the clumps of oil after applying straw to the blobs and making them rakeable."Just a little bulb that lit up in my head when i read this article".

    June 25, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dan

    WHY DOESN'T Obama declare a state of emergency in the gulf and issue executive orders to deploy the army engineers to supervise the use of oil eating bacteria in th marshes and stop the spraying of toxic dispersements in the gulf, he has to take command and stop depending on BP to do the right thing.They have already shown they can't be trusted to do anything right.

    June 25, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dan Peragine

    Posted by Star on Yahoo;
    “SUPER TANKER RETRIEVAL is CRITICAL. GET BP’s OIL OUT OF OUR WATER. Putting BP be in charge of the disaster is equivalent to putting Al Qaeda in charge of Home Land Security. BP has ruined our Gulf food chain, ecosystem and beaches with oil, chemicals, GREED. BP’s sub-sea containment failed. BP lied about the amount of oil being spilled & consequently, their retrieval efforts have fallen far short. SUPER TANKER RETRIEVAL is CRITICAL. There are miles & millions of gallons of oil slick with no ships or skimmers to retrieve it.
    In the 1990’s there was a comparable unpublished disaster in Saudi Arabia. Shell & the major oil companies organized a flotilla of super tankers surrounding the spill area. They pulled up oil and water until the oil was all retrieved. They retrieved 10 million gallons of oil and water per tanker per trip and effectively cleaned up the oil and saved the environment. BP’s oil did not have to reach Louisiana’s shore , it did not have to kill the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem, IT DOES NOT HAVE TO REACH FLORIDA & THE EAST COAST. Our government has failed with unforgivable procrastination for RETRIEVAL EFFORTS TO REMOVE THIS OILUS government officials are allowing the oil to continue to flow while oil company profiteers keep on keeping on. DEMAND SUPER TANKER RETRIEVAL CLEAN UP NOW. GET THE OIL OUT OF OUR WATER. Shell Oil CEO CALLED FOR Super Tanker Retrieval weeks ago on NBC news – if the government & BP had made the call then the tankers would be here by now.
    Please contact the President, the Department of Interior, Department of Justice, Governor, Senators and Representatives. SUPER TANKER RETRIEVAL NOW – GET BP's OIL OUT OF OUR WATER”.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dan p

    Great thinking by this gentleman, I am afraid the size and scope is to vast for this technique without hundreds or more of these skimmers.

    June 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. manuel peters

    We need to get the government and Bp to seriously attack the problem in the gulf. We all know that it is foolhardy to build a house on sand. It is just as stupid to drill for oil from a ship. If we have to drill for oil in the gulf, it should be done from a site below the floor of the gulf. We have created storage areas in the salt deposits under the gulf. We need to rethink the use of these areas as possible drilling sites. We could also mount a oil pumping package saddled on the back of a nuclear sub which could pump the leaking oil into the oil reserves. This oil could then be extracted to be used a some later date. This system would be safe from all stormes. We should be thinking about the contruction of a new altanis under the gulf. We know that our world will be destroyed some day in the future. We will not be able to stop all space objects from destroying our planet. We need to create a place on this planet where some people can live through an event that can destroy the human race. We need NASA to develop places in caves and under the sea.

    June 29, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ellen

    I heard on the news several months ago China is drilling wells off the coast of Florida.

    July 5, 2010 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
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