How Kevin Costner Went From Fish-Man to Oil Spill Expert

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In his magnum opus Waterworld, Kevin Costner’s character is introduced peeing into a machine that turns human urine into drinkable water. Now Costner has revealed that for the past 15 years he has been working on a similar machine in real life — and BP is interested.

Spurred to action by scenes from the Exxon Valdez disaster, Costner and his brother in the early ’90s envisioned a machine that would separate oil from water using a centrifuge motion. Costner poured $20 million of his own money into the project and, working with scientist David Meikrantz, the brothers eventually brought a product to market — only to find that demand had dried up. As Costner told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “People thought spills were over.”

After the Deepwater Horizon spill proved such assumptions wrong, Costner offered his centrifuge machines to a desperate BP. The machines failed an initial test (chemical disbursements had made the oil thicker than anticipated), but Costner claims that all necessary adjustments have been made.

The actor, who testified before Congress on oil spill cleanup last week, says that each of his machines can separate 200 gallons of oil a minute. Gawker estimates that at this rate it would take eight machines to equal the rate that oil is spilling into the Gulf. (BP has ordered 32 of them.) If all goes to plan, the machines will suck up oil much more efficiently than the oil skimmers in current use. “What this machine does is give a purer payload,” Costner told Cooper. “Suddenly a barge will be coming back to shore with 99 percent oil rather than the other way around.”

While Costner did build the machines, he is not looking for any accolades to come. As he told ABC News, “I’m not on a white horse, I’m not the savior … but I’m saying, ‘I’ve got a life preserver.'”