These days we use celebrities for everything, so why not get one to clean up one of our greatest natural disasters? Kevin Costner's gizmo that separates oil from water might be just what BP needs to save Louisiana's shores.

By now we've all heard that Kevin Costner has some sort of miracle machine that's going to keep us safe from the gallons and gallons of crude that are rushing into the Gulf of Mexico each day, but not everyone knows exactly the ins and outs of the thing. Since the Dances with Wolves director was on Good Morning America this morning to talk about his device and BP just ordered a few dozen, it's time to find out everything we can about his solution.

Just what the hell is this thing anyway?
The Ocean Therapy Solutions machines are giant centrifuges that suck up a combination of oil and water and then spin it around at high speeds. This separates the crude from the salt water. The water is spit back out and the oil is collected in a holding tank so it doesn't get back into the ocean. After going through a high speed filter, the water is supposedly 99% free of contaminants.

How quickly does it work?
The largest machines can separate 200 gallons of oil from the water per minute. That's about 210,000 gallons of oil per day.

Is that fast enough to be effective?
The most recent estimates suggest that between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil per day are leaking out of the Deepwater Horizon well. A barrel of oil is 42 gallons. So, if we take the highest estimates, that's about 1,680,000 gallons of oil per day. That would take eight of the OTC machines to clean up the new oil each day, not even counting the petroleum that's already in the water.

Where did the machine come from?
Costner was inspired to create something that would separate water from oil after watching the devastation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989 and from his work on notorious box office bomb Waterworld. If the OTS machine saves our asses from oil, we'll have to cut Costner a break and go back to picking on Ishtar.

Did he come up with it himself?
No, Costner had the original idea and inspiration and put in more than $20 million of his own money to create it, but he worked on the actual machine with his scientist brother, Dan. They used a patent for a centrifugal separation device that David Meikrantz created for the Department of Defense when working at the Department of Energy. In 1993, Meikrantz went to work for Costner Industries to work with Ocean Therapy Solutions. The first finished machines were available for commercial use about 10 years ago.

Why hasn't anyone used it before?
Costner says that there hasn't been much interest in his machine until now that there's a dire need for it. (You know how it is: You never think about Band-Aids until you have a blister.) Since BP is willing to try any solution short of putting a diaper on the leak, there was some initial interest from the company, but the machines failed preliminary testing.

If it failed the test, why are we still talking about this piece of shit?
After the first round of evaluations, the machine had a problem processing thicker clumps of oil and the petroleum product it was extracting was too thick—almost the consistency of peanut butter. Costner claims that improvements have been made to the device and it now works properly.

Are BP and the government going to buy some then?
The oil company has ordered 32 machines from Costner and will most likely be deploying them shortly. The government still hasn't placed an order, even though Costner testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology last week.

Is this just a way for Costner to use his celebrity to get back some of the $20 million he wasted coming up with a crappy machine that doesn't work?
Maybe. Since it has never been used in the field or in such a large capacity, there's no idea how effective it will be. But, like he said, if they don't want to reward him for being famous, then buy a similar machine from someone else. However, if it does work and our shores see that much less oil because of it, shouldn't he be rewarded financially for having the foresight to spearhead an invention that can solve the problem we're facing?

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[Image via Getty]