Can crowdsourcing clean up an oil spill?

Posted by Connie French on May 19, 2010 11:00:00 AM

We recently announced that InnoCentive was launching an "Emergency Response 2.0" Challenge to combat the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  To date, more than 1000 Solvers have opened project rooms for this Challenge, and we've received more than 200 submissions.  This is the fastest ramp-up we've ever seen for a Challenge, and, given that in this unique instance there is no monetary award, an amazing testament to our Solvers' willingness to help.

Recently we interviewed Scott Pegau, Director of the Oil Spill Recover Institute (OSRI) in Cordova Alaska about the oil spill. OSRI was created by the government in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and has been tasked with improving oil spill response in Arctic and subarctic marine waters. As you may know, OSRI has posted several Challenges on the InnoCentive website, including the Challenge, recently made famous by the New York Times, to separate oil from water in recovery barges. That Challenge was solved by John Davis, an oil-industry outsider. We find that many of the best solutions on our network come from outside the industry in which they are posted.  In the midst of the current

Scott Pegau -

1. Millions of gallons of oil are being dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, with no end in sight. What is your biggest concern at this point?

That people wishing to be involved only do so AFTER getting proper training. I don’t want to see people risking their long-term health.

I also want to see the spill get capped as soon as possible.

2. What would you recommend our Solvers think about in working on this Challenge? (any technical information that might not be obvious?)

How to stop the leak or control the flow. Some challenges include being able to reach the spill location (can the solution be delivered by ship or ROV), the amount of flow out of the well (will it lift caps or prevent items from being inserted), the high pressure environment (it can destroy many solutions). Our abilities to work around deep-sea hydrothermal vents may provide an indication of what we are capable of.

3. Can you provide some links to industry resources for Solvers who are thinking about submitting solutions to this Challenge?

Can’t provide any specific sites.

4. What do you perceive as the long term effects of this oil spill?

It is a tough call. The timing is bad in that it is the reproductive season for many organisms, which are more sensitive to exposure. To date the spill is still only a fraction of the oil released during Hurricane Katrina. Then again the presence of a hurricane would greatly change the exposure to organisms.

It is extremely difficult to document the impact to fish since they generally don’t float to the surface where people can find and count them. The ability to quickly document the impact to fish is a challenge in itself.

5. What did you learn about the experience with your Challenge that might be useful in this situation?

I would consider a cap that included a hose to the surface that could be used to put the oil directly into a tanker. A valve at the bottom of the hose would allow the possibility of the cap being able to stop the flow, but if the pressure is so great that it lifts the cap then there is a mechanism to relieve the pressure and direct the flow to where you want it on the surface. If you can’t stop the flow then control it.

Hi Connie,

Your solvers might like a copy of this fact sheet on what BP is building.

More information can be found at


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