Prince William Sound, the islanded inlet of the Gulf of Alaska, was never the same after the oil tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 to 38 million U.S. gallons of crude oil back in March 1989, which was a Good Friday. The oil spill effects of this devastating human-caused environmental disaster were felt heavily by those who depended on the natural resources of the region. One of them is Kevin Kennedy.
He knew about the oil spill on the day it happened but little did he know how huge it was until he decided to take a boat ride and check. It was his last day as a shrimper.
“I didn’t have any idea how big it was until I got three-and-a-half, four hours out of Whittier and got to Knight Island Pass,” says Kennedy. “And then you could smell it. And then you could start seeing it. And it just kept coming and coming and coming.”
Kennedy did not sit the oil spill through and worked on taking the oil out of the water. Now, he’s been working hard by himself in his “mad scientist den” to find the best solution to oil spills.
He is not at all backed with engineering experience or financed by the government in this endeavour. He is entirely self-taught and self-funded, thanks mostly for being a retiree.
Since he started working in his garage with a pungent smell of oil and scattered mechanical parts and tools, he, together with his team at Pacific Petroleum Recovery Alaska, has produced many inventions all of which have videos posted on his website.
Among them is what he calls as the Otter Skimmer. It has two versions: the Sea Otter Series and the River Otter Series. The former weighs 1,200 pounds, which fits in 4 full-sized fish totes and deploys in 2 hours or less; while the latter is less than 500 pounds, able to fit in 1 fish tote, and can be operated on a long-term basis with minimal staff.
It works by throwing to the ocean to gather the oil and get it into the device on board, which separates the oil from water and pumps it into a storage container.
Its inventor believes that it is more efficient, at 98% oil recovery efficiency, than the equipment response teams used in cleaning up oil spills. Matt Melton, the general manager of an oil spill response team based in Anchorage called the Alaska Chadux Corporation, agrees.
However, it is unfortunate that Melton cannot endorse Kennedy’s equipment. There are existing oil spill cleanup equipment that meet all the requirements. Plus, oil spill response teams like Melton’s have grown to their use.
Melton is not disqualifying the greatness of the Otter Skimmer. He says that it might come in handy on certain oil spills.
“If I had an oil spill tomorrow and I called Kevin and he had one sitting on his shelf, I’d take it in a second,” says Melton.
For now, Kennedy keeps on improving and developing his oil spill cleaning devices until he gets the nod of the response teams, especially Melton.