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BP oil spill: Will the 'sweeping arm system' from the Dutch help?

The Dutch government is supplying six sweeping arm systems for the BP oil spill. The technology involves a skimmer that picks up oil and water and then separates the two.

By Staff writer / June 1, 2010

Oil floats around a rig at the site of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana, Monday.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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The Dutch government is giving BP officials in the Gulf of Mexico advanced oil recovery technology it says will be more effective than previous efforts.

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The technology, called the sweeping arm system, was developed by the Dutch in the early 1970s and has been used to successfully combat oil spills – including high-profile disasters involving the Sea Empress, off the coast of Wales, in 1996; and the Prestige, off the coast of Spain, in 2002.

On Sunday, the Dutch sent six such systems by airfreight to Houston. They’re also sending a six-member team that can reassemble the parts, load them onto tankers, and train a workforce from T&T Marine – a Galveston, Texas, contractor that BP hired to lead the emergency response effort. The operation should be ready for the BP oil spill in 10 days, says Sjon Huisman, an adviser with the Netherlands’s Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

The sweeping arm system involves a delicate and slow-moving skimmer that works on the surface of the water, picking up a top layer of oil and water. It moves the concentrated mix to a storage tank where the water and oil are separated and then the water is pumped overboard.

In a press conference Tuesday, US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen would neither confirm nor deny that the technology would be used in the Gulf oil spill. Allen would only say that recovery officials were “reaching out to the Netherlands, Canada, and Mexico” for technology assistance. “We’re looking at all sources,” he said.

Dutch companies that manufacture the sweeping arm system first contacted BP officials April 23, three days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, according to Mr. Huisman, who spoke by phone from his office in The Hague Tuesday. After receiving little reply, the companies turned to his department for help in reaching out to the US State Department, Huisman says.

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