Crowdsource: BP Oil Spill and social media

BP haven’t consulted the rest of the world on solutions for Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. And there are a lot of innovation crowdsourced communities online. I checked: none had a project to find a solution for the oil spill. Some individual bloggers have gone ahead and asked their readers for a Oil Spill solution –…

BP haven’t consulted the rest of the world on solutions for Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. And there are a lot of innovation crowdsourced communities online. I checked: none had a project to find a solution for the oil spill. Some individual bloggers have gone ahead and asked their readers for a Oil Spill solution –  and got a variety of answers from readers – but apparently BP aren’t listening. Perhaps BP might want to  understand that by simply posting the need for a solution on a crowdsourced website, putting up a reward, and using a small part of their PR budget to promote discussions online about possible solutions, they can start to recover from at least the public relations disaster even if they can’t from the environmental one. People like to feel consulted, as if they are working together to solve a catastrophe facing the world.  By the way, only a totally evil company would ask the public for their ideas and then not even read them. BP aren’t that evil… are they?

Crowdsourcing isn’t just to screw with your branding….

If you’ve been living under a rock – or so immersed in your small echo chamber of social media news – that you’ve missed out on DeepWater Horizon Oil Spill, here’s the summary:

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the Gulf of Mexico oil spillDeepwater BP oil spill, and the Macondo blowout) is a massive ongoing oil spill and oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico that started on April 20, 2010. The spill followed a blowout that caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, which then sank off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven rig workers are missing and presumed dead; the explosion also injured 17 others. The oil spill covers a surface area of at least 2,500 square miles (6,500 km2) according to estimates reported on May 3, 2010 byReuters. [from Wikipedia]

As I write this post, the spill is still gushing or whatever oil spills do, nearly one month on. And there are no solutions. Or at least there were solutions until they didn’t work, or take too long.

BP solutions for BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Attempts to fix include:

  • send in an ROV to close valves
  • put a recovery dome over the well head
  • drill a second well to siphon off oil
  • insert a tube (ongoing today)

So I got to thinking: what if we crowdsourced a solution? Are there enough generalists and specific experts in a variety of areas that could cover such an arcane area as deep in the ocean oil technology? And my second question was… would BP listen to a crowdsourced solution?

Now given that James Surowiecki wrote in The Wisdom of The Crowds about a submarine that was lost and the general public were asked where it might be found. Weather people, and oceanography people and sailors and physicists and all sorts pitched in their ideas. Sometimes these things work based on a)enough skilled people offering up ideas until one works, b) sometimes it’s a numbers game – mark all the ideas on a bell curve and if over large % think solution C works, try that one first c) sometimes crowdsourcing just doesn’t work at all.

Crowdsourced innovation social networks

So I had a look on crowdsourced business websites.

InnovationExchange Nice site. Most of the projects came in for A leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances…. or This company is one of the world’s most respected leaders in the premium alcoholic drinks business or better yet  international humanitarian charitable organization. Nothing from a major driller and supplier of the world’s oil… Project included infomercial products and holiday candy but nothing on stopping oil wells from spewing up.

NineSigma I had a look at their open projects. Enhance Particle Adhesion to Tooth Surfaces, Rapid Measurement of Surface Properties of worked metal parts and Industrial Water Effluent Discharge Technologies. Schweeeeeet. If you know about that stuff anyway. But out of the 20 or projects posted up for crowdsourcing and  expert solutions in April and May, there was nothing about stopping an oil spill. Though I didn’t understand what all the projects were about so it’s possible that it IS there, but hiding.

MillionBrains Have a look at their challenges. More lowbrow than high brow. New cost-efficient ways of transporting loaded containers was the most sophisticated one I saw. Most others were opinions – best way to buy art online? Nothing about stopping oil wells from oozing.

That’s three from me, but there are many other crowdsourcing sites. Have you found BP posting on any of them?

Specific sites (not open crowdsourcing ones) have sprung up to encourage people to submit solutions. One is the blogger Michael J Evans on BP Oil News:

One thing that surprised me when I started this blog was that you, members of the public, have ideas about how to help solve the oil spill disaster and BP doesn’t want to hear about them.

Crowdsourced solutions to BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The ideas the public have come up with include

  • “We have a way to contain the oil coming up from the seabed and we manufacture a boom system that far, far exceeds anything you have ever seen. 600 miles of it can be produced and deployed in under 30 days with current available materials.”
  • “Why not run tubing string inside recovery casing and inject steam. Haven’t done math but should be able to get effect of line heater.”
  • fill the dome with automotive antifreeze
  • Isn’t it possible to use tankers equipped with oil /water separators to literally vacuum up oil on the surface of the water, extract the oil and pump filtered water back into the ocean ?
  • So my idea is to drill small holes, horizontal holes, in the existing well head pipe say, 1/4″ or3/8″. Then push steel rods into the holes like fingers. Keep on inserting the rods until you create a grid. Maybe you will have to go up and down the pipe with a series of rods. Then go about six feet down from the grid drill another hole big enough to inject golf balls. After that is done drill a hole in the middle of this mess of semi-jammed golf balls and inject a plastic epoxy into the middle under high pressure then the pipe would jam.

and another 11 comments. And that’s just on one blog.

Public Relations vs Environmental Disaster

Now here’s the “be clever but don’t be too evil” bit. It doesn’t matter if any of the suggestions can work. It doesn’t matter if they are made by 5 year olds or complete nutters or some oceanographer who’s been out of the loop of technology since the 1970s. What matters is that you have  two disasters on your hands. An environmental one and a Public Relations one. And while you are working on number one, get your PR/Marketing crew to work on number two. Set up or connect with an innovation crowdsourcing community. By asking people to contribute there is a feeling of team, of pulling together, of being empowered. It will go a long way to mitigate that us-and-them-enmity as in “they destroyed the environment and there’s nothing we can do”.

And, you never know, your PR person might just walk in in the next couple of days with a “I’m not sure if this will work, but one of the bloggers said…” that helps find the next step to a solution.

I reckon Twitter would agree with me.

If you can’t be bothered to figure out how to plug a oil well spewing into the ocean, have a look at

Have a bet on how long it takes BP to find a solution maybe

By the way, most of this thinking came from watching House MD season six, ep 3 Epic Fail again the other night – the patient goes on the internet to crowdsource solutions to his illness, with mixed results and mixed reaction from the diagnostic department. Awesome episode with a delicious irony at the end. You really should watch it. See? Some good things still come from watching telly. 😛

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  1. So true – this is a big point I’m pushing within government with citizen-centric service design and consumer consultation. Government simply can’t afford to recruit and retain the expertise needed to apply the best thinking this country has to offer to every problem. In fact, with the competitiveness of the private sector, government cannot hope to attract the best and brightest minds who will find bigger challenges, better pay and higher job satisfaction in the private sector.

    Apart from the fact that government needs to address that particular problem, it’s also important to acknowledge that we need the expertise, opinions, feedback and collective intelligence of people beyond the walls of the office otherwise we *will* deliver sub-standard services and information ineffectively. It’s just maths.

  2. Well done laurel I hope you have offered your services. A problem shared is a burden lessened and there truly is nothing better than a community engaged with the best outcome in mind



  4. Laurel,
    Thanks for the mention in your informative article. I agree with the points you made. BP has been largely clueless with their entire PR campaign, including social media. Their Facebook account remains unattended by any BP employee. Fans of BP’s fan page have increased by over 1,000 in the past two weeks due to the number of enemies signing up so they can post insults on BP’s wall. At we have about 400 suggestions now, and our Twitter feed is being followed by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security (GOHSEP) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as a number of journalists and environmental groups. GOHSEP is keeping up with suggestions on our blog, and yesterday sent an email thanking us for suggestions. BP apparently finally hired someone with PR skills, and has just opened a telephone hotline for people to call with suggestions. the phone number is 1-281-366-5511. I called the number, expecting a recording, but a live person answered after 2 rings and took my contact information and asked for my suggestion. I told her we had between 300-400 suggestions at and she asked me to repeat the web address twice and thanked me for the information. I don’t know whether BP will act on this and read the suggestions, or whether it’s merely PR done just a little too little, too late. Whatever it is, I would say it’s about time, coming more than 40 days after the oil rig explosion.
    You have an interesting blog. I like your toolbar at the bottom of the page. How do you do that?

  5. use a sleeve, with a large valve attached on top. secure sleeve to cut oil pipe, and close valve. it makes sense to me. steve

    1. secure sleeve with large valve attached over cut oil pipe, and close valve. steve

      1. Stephen,

        Simple eloquence. I think your idea is great, far more plausible than any of BP’s.Mine’s a little less simple, but here goes from a non-techie mind:

        1.Tack-weld a narrow washer just inside the pipe entrance that is the size of the pipe’s inner circumference.
        2. Insert a closed umbrella-like device past the washer.
        3. Remotely open the “umbrella” til it fills the pipe.
        4. Let it slip back toward the inner side of the washer so that it can’t be forced out by oil pressure.
        5. Squirt sealant through the “stem” of the umbrella and out the top of the stem, permanently stopping the oil flow.

        Keep the ideas coming, America. We can fix this!

  6. While the crap washing up on the gulf coast shores is nasty . it is not useless. It can’t be made into gasoline ,but it will become tar all by itself with time—someone needs to establish a market for it—–oil skimmers are easy to make and simple to use and ,given that there are lots of people around down there with boats and no job for the forseeable future I’m sure that there would be lots of people out cleaning the mess up if they could make a little money doing it.Instead of worrying about the outcome of a law suit with BP which won’t happen for years—-if ever,I’m sure the louisiana shrimpers and just general swamp rats would rather be helping clean this mess up.and a few million dollars would do it—–Good Luck —–Pat

    Take a ring of floatable material(styrafoam, etc) attach a mesh bag so that when the bag is horizontal the bag hangs below it.put a weight in the bottom of the bag the fill the bag with the kind of stuffing from cheap ski jackets have(this absorbs oil even when mixed with water)-=—-make thousands of these —sail into the muck and throw them overboard .If made right they will float just at the surface or just under it (where the oil is) they will all drift ashore eventually,will be easy to identify and easy to dispose of—-they will cost about three cents apiece have no moving parts ,don’t require drug testing and compared to the oil they catch are no mess at all—–SAVE THE GULF!!!!!!!—-Pat

  8. Try a “Drain King”, a simple and easily available plumbing maintanence device the one I have is for pipes between 3″ and 6″ it hooks to a hose and when you turn the water on it swells to stop up the pipe,then allows enough flow to blow the clog. I don’t know if it will function using drill mud but this,or some adaptation could solve the problem—–Pat

  9. Here is an example of what I believe you refer to as crowdsourcing, but we do not use a particular software to facilitate this…we look at the feedback, do our best to evaluate it, then publish the ‘design-in-progress’ as shown on the website. I really liked your article and it wil prompt me to do additional research. Best regards, Greg

  10. We are attempting to ‘crowdsource’ a solution to better contain an oilspill through the website We’ve been on-line for about of week and have received 10-12 fairly intelligent suggestions that we’ve since incorported into our proposed solution. The solution is presented as a new version of the animation incorporating the selected suggestions. In this manner, people can see how we are evolving the solution over time; the latest version then goes live on YOUTUBE. It’s an intereting dynamic and I’ve got a lot of ideas on how we can perfect this over time on other projects.

    I really liked your article and will definitely do additional research in this area. Best regards, Greg

  11. Dont act against the pressure-act with it…create a pipe larger and wider than the one the oil comes out of starting from the sea floor and surrounding the current pipe..add one section after another until the pipe is way above the point of oil release…the higher you go the less the pressure and higher the temperature…slowly taper the width of the pipe until you are high enough and have a narrow enough opening to attach a hose and pump the oil to ships on the surface.

  12. I would need to know the pressure involved in the oil escaping and the equipment available that can be used and then a system can be built to close the leak in days, I would be able to do the job. I worked in strata control in coal mines and was a commercial diver. I have engineering trade background. My work involved problem solving in adverse conditions and were life threatening and extremely dangerous at times. Do not change the subject the leak needs to be stopped and stopped now.

  13. How can professional oil drill team that builds a millions of dollar oil drilling facility in the middle of ocean without a backup plan? It is very ironic. Even a Dounkin Donut store in the Mystic, CT has a full safety design and safety protocol to follow so it can avoid any possible emergency. Ironically, a construction like oil drill facility which costs millions of dollar that requires far greater construction plan, safety protocol, environment impact evaluation and backup plans fail to solve an oil leakage after 50 days of crisis. From the BP headquarter to the department that approval the construction, how those people allow this to be happen?

    Check on the BP America Facebook,!/BPAmerica?ref=ts, the answer may be there. The facebook of BP America is similar to how BP responds in the oil spill crisis. No answer, no progress, no promise and nothing helpful except itself keep updating how hard BP has been working for. As all the people who may concern, we need a solution or a proper respond to our concerns instead of keep promoting how hard BP has been doing. We need a solution and BP’s wiliness to accept criticizes and public suggestions.

    1. Arron made a comment that the donut store would have a plan and yes they would they own the problem if one and they would pay for the problem if one were created and there is the difference.
      It is easy to not come up with a plan, happens all the time I could write a book on the near misses that I have had to fix up in my time as an engineer. Talk about it is cheaper. Will they listen, no because the top and middle management would look stupid if they adopted any of the suggestions put forward especially by some bloke from Australia or anywhere else in the world. I have offered my services free of charge to BP and they know what and how I would fix it.. I also worked in the petrochemical industry and was taught diamond drilling by my ex father in law . So here it is, I think the job of stopping the leak would take about a week, I know I am not there but engineering problems are the same worldwide. I believe there is good men on the job if given the chance could do the job. If given the OK but they haven’t been asked to and they will not be asked. Over the years I have found that the laborers on the job know more than the engineers because they have the experience of the doing. People in general will not accept anything new and this is a problem as well.

  14. I did some more research and this article says it all. If you read it in full you will understand why suggestions will never work. I don’t know if this works but you will see the problem that this inventor and the world has at large.
    Fredericton inventor Dr. George Sutherland thinks he has the solution to cleaning up the millions of barrels of oil still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a damaged British Petroleum undersea well.
    Enlarge Photo
    Click to Enlarge
    Click to Enlarge
    Stephen MacGillivray
    Sutherland Separation Systems owner George Sutherland holds up a beaker with oil and water in it, left. His process will turn it into the water shown in the beaker on the right.

    He has developed and tested a product that is safe, cheap, non-toxic and cleans oil out of water at the molecular level.

    The only problem is he can’t get anybody to listen to him.

    “It has been very frustrating,” Sutherland told The Daily Gleaner this week.

    “We’ve had a series of investors who claimed they had money “¦ and when it came time to pay up the dollars weren’t there.”

    Another time Sutherland’s technology was about to be used full scale for the first time and the company he was working with went bankrupt.

    Sutherland, who has a PhD in chemistry from the University of New Brunswick, has also contacted government officials and major oil companies.

    “Nothing seems to happen,” he said.

    Sutherland’s invention is called microencapsulating flocculating dispersion or MFD.

    Exactly what it is made of is top secret.

    In its basic form it looks like little clear plastic beads. But when it’s turned into liquid form and sprayed on oily water and mixed, it makes the oil clump together so it’s easy to handle.

    It takes only seconds and one pound of MFD will treat 10,000 gallons of water.

    “It is safe,” said the 56-year-old scientist. “The polymer itself is food-contact grade.”

    Sutherland is confident that MFD will work on the open ocean.

    He said MFD, which is patented, can be produced as a sponge-like solid that absorbs oil or it could be sprayed onto the ocean as a liquid to make the oil clump up and float where it can be easily scooped up.

    “It actually works better in sea water than it does in fresh water,” he said.

    Sutherland remembers the exact eureka moment when the idea for MFD came to him.

    “I had been working with micropore polymers in fibre form for quite a few years before that for separating oil on water and I was also aware of the MFD dispersion,” he said.

    “I don’t know how to explain it. But at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning March 23, 1998 I sat bolt upright in bed and said that liquid can solidify oil.

    “Four hours later I was in my lab looking at the first oil-MFD solid.”

    Sutherland’s company is called Sutherland Separations Systems and at that time had a lab in the Enterprise UNB building in Fredericton.

    Sutherland said using MFD oil recovery operations would be 20 per cent cheaper than traditional methods and require far less massive equipment.

    He said the ingredients in MFD are common and inexpensive. He said one ingredient is already used in the glue on cereal box lids.

    Ross Gilders, pilot plant manager at the Research and Productivity Council in Fredericton, has worked extensively with Sutherland on MFD.

    “I have never seen anything as effective as MFD,” he said. “It cleans the water.”

    Gilders said MFD has been extensively tested on water that is contaminated with oil at the concentration of 50,000 parts per million or five per cent oil.

    After it is mixed with MFD there is less than one part per million oil left in the water, he said.

    That isn’t drinkable but it is safe to release into the environment, said Gilders.

    RPC has overseen two large scale tests of MFD and ironically one of them six years ago was for British Petroleum at a facility they own in Trinidad and Tobago.

    “They were impressed,” said Gilders.

    But at the last minute BP decided not to invest in MFD, he said.

    Pemex, the Mexican state oil company, also did a pilot project a few years later.

    “Those tests were very successful,” said Gilders.

    “We had crystal clear water coming out and even recovered the oil for them. They wanted to follow up with a pilot.”

    That is when the problems with the investors began.

    Gilders said another problem facing the commercial use of MFD is that it has not yet been approved by the EPA for use in American waters.

    If anyone wants to see MFD in action they can view a four-minute video made several years ago by Sutherland at YouTube by searching for “MFDSutherland.”

    In the four-minute video he dips duck feathers into oily water and they come out covered in oil.

    After MFD is added to the oily water, new duck feathers are immersed and they come out clean.

    Then he scoops the congealed oil out of the water by hand – something normally impossible with oily water – and uses a paper towel to squeeze the water out of the oil, leaving an oil cake which can be safely handled.

    Theoretically, MFD in its sponge form could even plug the gushing BP oil well beneath the Gulf of Mexico, said Sutherland.

    Robot submersibles could force a large sponge into the broken pipe and it would absorb the escaping oil, expand and block the rupture, he said.

    And it doesn’t just work on oil. The inventor said it works on other contaminants in water such as heavy metal.

    Sutherland said he would welcome a call from any investor who reads about MFD.

    “The potential is just enormous,” he said.

  15. Lets fix the problem and worry about the clean afterwards. Look lets make it simple for them cause all of them are ducking for over and are vying for positions so they come out looking squeaky clean , Stick a football up the pipe and inflate it. Simple. Does it need to be made simpler.Incompetent Idiots.

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