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. tricky

    Wow! Now that is the American thinking I want to see from the current Administration. This man took the responsibility to clean up the oil to a whole different level. Congratulations to him and his crew and to the many, many fishing boats that work this spill. Thank you from another American!

    June 23, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • annette jacobsohn

      Why can't non woven fibers like those used in pampers,kotex or tampons be rolled out to soak theoil up?

      June 25, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Janis Hewitt

    I hope his name is on the patent and not BPs. Great minds come to the forefront under duress. Good work.

    June 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. marshall

    Hope he patents it too!!!!! American thinking at its best. Too bad more do not realize that we can do about anything in the face of diversity and do not have to wait until the government decides to do something .

    June 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Liz

    Good for Mr. Matherne. At least someone at BP can think outside the box. Kevin Costner deserves some credit as well.

    But all you people that keep blaming the Obama Administration for this spill need to get your facts straight. It is the lack of regulations encouraged by the Republican Saint Ronald Reagan that set the scene for this disaster. The Bush Administration was full of those loyal to the black crude and their own pocketbook and Obama is the one who is stuck cleaning up the mess they perpetrated. Maybe he should just plug the hole with Sarah Palin's big mouth.

    June 23, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beth

      hmmmm...comment about lack of regulation....interesting to note you are telling us to get our facts straight? There is massive regulation involved with drilling/oil/gas etc. Our precious administration chose to look the other way when BP was creating this mess. Our administration chose to not practice the imposed regulations on BP.
      Its PR that has given big bad oil companies a bad name. Do you realize that a large percentage of oil companies shareholders are people like you and I? Those big bad oil companies have made American's rich.....and you shun them? You are not for freedom and the American Way.

      June 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Concerned

      Why cann't you Bush hating Democrates keep your opinions to yourself and shut your pie holes.
      Grow up!

      June 24, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jessica, Grand Rapids MI

      Beth – this rig was not built on Obama's watch, so the regulators who "looked the other way" were guided to do this not by Obama, but by republicans who dont want regulation period. So it stands to reason that if they dont want regulations, they would do what they could to make the regulations not really be effective – which is exactly what they did. I acknowledge that Obama let the ball drop, because most of us already KNEW that the previous administration had instructed regulators (across the board) to be lax on the job, and Obama did not do anything upon entering office to correct that. It could be said that with the other problems he faced, this fell to the bottom of the list, but thats just an excuse – it does not make what occured ok (or rather didnt occur). That said, Im well aware that many Americans have profitted from oil production – what I dont understand is how that matters in any of this. Am I supposed to think "well if people are getting rich, let it slide, who cares if we destroy our oceans by cutting corners!" Apparently, according to you, I am. I have morals, I have ethics. I dont value money above everything else. And heck, im not a christian. Im guessing you arent either. Thats not company I am proud of.

      June 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • yanni

      I love how the democrats want to blame Bush, Reagan, Lincoln, etc. and the republicans want to blame Obama, Clinton, FDR etc. Actually, the blame is ours for voting in politicians of both parties who don't put our long-term interests first and for demanding cheap oil so we can drive ourselves to work or play in our gas guzzlers. We need to demand that both parties work together to adopt an energy policy that meets our economic needs for for transportation and protects our environment. Obama said that the Gulf would come back "better than ever"; thats foolishness. The environmental impact of this spill will taint the Gulf for many of our lifetimes.

      June 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      I think it's hilarious how people tell people to get their facts straight, but then don't get theirs straight. Building on this rig started in 1998, I believe that's a Clinton year. And it didn't drill that hole until 2010 an Obama Year if I'm not mistaken. Also it safely drilled the deepest oil well in history, safely, in Sept of 2009 another Obama Year. But what's the truth amongst friends aye Liz and Jessica. And for the record it construction was completed during a Bush Year. The problem is we have big government whether it's democrat or republican. Big business gives them campaign finances, direct bribes, lobbying, and half the time preformats the legislation that gets enacted (the other half the time it consults on rules and laws). It is the fox guarding the hen house.

      June 24, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      Yanni how many life times did it take for the gulf to recover from 1979 Ixtoc platform disaster? Or did you not know this has happened before, but it was Pemex the Mexican Oil Company that did it last time. The same sham recovery techniques were tried and failed just the same and it took 9 months to drill the relief wells and cap the gusher then. And by the way it only took 3 years to recover, sorry to burst your dystopian nightmare. The apocolypse has been canceled, I guess you'll have to wait till Dec. 21, 2012.

      June 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gideon

      Yes, that is a very important point. The current administration is the fall guy, not the cause. You think they looked the other way? Yeah, they were focused on the two wars, the economy, the immigration issues, and the security of our country they inherited from the useless President before him, when BAM! Oil Well explodes.

      It's like blaming a crossing guard who is busy watching the children for not seeing that guy break a window on your car down the block.

      So stupid what people like to blame Obama on. It's like they forgot he is ONE HUMAN being that inherited 8 years of mess. So much Un-educated panic bogging down the possible intelligence of this country.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  5. Kim B.

    Obama needs to give this man the congressional medal of honor... courage in the face of insurmountable odds!

    June 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      Why who did he fight? Did we declare war on BP? It hasn't reached the news yet who's your source?

      June 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. grease spot

    Hey marshall, "....we can do about anything in the face of diversity and do not have to wait until the government decides to do something"

    How about adversity, you moron.

    June 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Deekayfry

    Just watch. BP will patent it make quadrillions off of it, and Matherne will not see a dime of it.

    Seriously, just watch.

    June 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Karen- Walton County Florida

    Hey Kim B.-
    I bet you were one of the main people blaming bush for hurricane katrina! The sierra club and other enviornmentalist did not want shallow water drilling. No, instead there is a oil leak a mile deep and they can't seem to cap it off. A shallow water leak would have been capped by now. Why don't we take your big fat mouth and plug the leak you anti capitalist dog!

    June 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Environmental groups have absolutely nothing to do with companies not drilling in shallower water. That was already done. Decades ago. The reason we don't drill in shallower waters is because the reclaimable oil has already been removed. Companies drill in the gulf a mile deep because that is where the largest available resources remaining for the Continental USA are; it has absolutely nothing to do with "the Sierra Club." Do you honestly think the energy companies want to drill at a cost of half a million dollars a day plus if there were easier sources to claim? So I believe I can return the "Why don't we take your big fat mouth and plug the leak" to you, since you're obviously so quick to spout back idiocy on an internet comment board things you wouldn't dare say to someone's face.

      June 25, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Patty

    This is starting to get ridiculous, they have removed cap now? How much longer before someone stands up and gets BP out of way to get this corrected. Everyone says their experts, well they are not doing anything, looks like they have given up. It doesn’t make sense to just fight this once it gets into our beautiful waters, it is simply coming from a single location under water. I saw a suggestion by a boy to loosen the riser cap (you can see the bolts on the video) and slide sheet of steel in and retighten to restrict the flow, what a great idea, could a robot not loosen bolts? Another idea, why not just unscrew the bolts and replace the whole cap? Or if all else fails, then let the oil flow into some sort of funnel or vacuum to capture it directly above riser before it spreads into the water too much. I am just waiting for someone to take a stand, I wish our president would put beaurocracy aside and get this done, that would change many of our opinions toward government and politics. Can someone take charge before it is too late!!!

    June 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      The cap was removed TEMPORARILY due to one of the robots bumping it and causing some fluid leakage that BP needed to figure out. it has been reinstalled.

      as for your funnel/vacuum idea.. thats what the Cap is. almost exactly. good luck loosening those bolts. you dont think if BP could do that and just slap another valve on top they'd not have done that already? the ROVs can not get the needed leverage to move the bolts under water. if BP could do this they'd have done it Day 1 and saved the well and prevented the major disaster they and everyone else is now dealing with.

      June 24, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Archie Bunker

    No one can patent this invention.Once its put out on the internet for everyone to see,its now open source and can not be patented or have a copyright on it.But it wont stop anyone who wants to make them and sell them to BP for lots of $$$.

    June 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darth Vader

      You are incorrect, in the United States you have 1 year to file a patent application from the date of disclosure. In most other countries, he is unfortunately out of luck. A real problem is the device is being used in the ocean where the US may not have jurisdiction.

      Copyrights are more for artistic works, than inventions. Copyrights are created the moment a creator puts "pen to paper" so placing your artistic works on the Internet do not destroy your copyrights.

      June 24, 2010 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. TW


    June 24, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  12. The_Mick

    That's not true that he can't patent it because the information has gone out. As long as he can prove that he had the initial idea and did not declare it free for everyone, he can patent it. I was involved in patenting chemical processes when I worked in R & D in industry and there were a number of cases involving our company's processes and other companies' processes where proving who had the initial idea was the key.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. gogo

    Such DOWNERS! More people said negative than positive. Good for him..............if he could invent this, I'm sure he knows what he can do with it. The man is brilliant. An America Blessing.

    June 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. gary provencher

    everyone is concerned about the inventor making money from the invention. Maybe he was just trying to solve the problem rather than get rich. In some cases that counts more than another few millions in the bank. At least, if it works, someone should erect a statue of him for generations to come to remember him by.

    June 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      I'd rather see both. The problem solved and him get paid for it, BP is not a charity.

      June 24, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joe

    This is why we should have money set aside for "hero" rewards. $100,000 to people like this. We need to start publicizing and rewarding our heroes again.

    June 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Great Idea. It's time to get more positive stories back into the press. There's too much finger pointing and too much blame. There's a problem and we need to fix it. We as a country should be acting together, not as individuals who sit back and complain. (Yes, I realize I'm sitting at my computer and complaining about the complaining...)

      June 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
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