SARASOTA — Inside Sarasota-based Osprey Biotechnics is a bacteria compound that will, in a sense, devour oil.
The product is called Munox, and as Osprey Biotechnics officials explain it, the bacteria consumes oil, digests it and breaks it down to harmless substances such as water and minute amounts of carbon dioxide.
So why does this product remain in Osprey Biotechnics’ labs instead of being used to cleanup the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?
Osprey Biotechnics is wondering the same thing.
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“If given an opportunity, we can be an integral part of cleaning up the coastal waters as well as oil-contaminated sand,” said Victoria Finley, vice president of business development at Osprey Biotechnics. “We have inventory on site — enough to make hundreds of thousands of gallons of product — that would be capable of being applied to the coastal cleanup.”
Instead, there appears to be no signs of interest from BP, the governor’s office or several elected officials Osprey has reached out to, according to Finley and Lauren Danielson, executive vice president of Osprey Biotechnics.
“We reached out to BP and elected officials in hopes of determining who is the responsible party for the cleanup,” Finley said. “The only response that we have received has been from the state Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office.”
The attorney general’s office contacted Osprey within days after the spill after learning about the company through the media.
“The attorney general has been speaking publically about new technologies available to help mitigate the impacts of the oil spill that are not currently being employed,” said Ryan Wiggins, deputy communications director for the attorney general’s office. “Osprey Biotechnics is one of the companies he has mentioned. We have contacted (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) Secretary Mike Sole personally about this company’s product and forwarded the information to DEP for further review.”
However, officials with the governor’s office, the DEP and Sen. Bill Nelson’s office said businesses with suggestions on the oil spill cleanup are being asked to contact the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command team.
Finley said Osprey has also submitted an online product application from Munox to the Unified Command team and has not received a response.
A spokesperson at Unified Command said submissions must go through a reviewal process and if it looks to be helpful the company would be contacted.
Nancy Blum, communications director of the DEP, said Florida does not have the authority to authorize the use of materials such as Munox because bio-remediation agents are governed by federal regulations. Blum said Unified Command has the discretion to review such products.
Bryan Gulley, a spokesperson for Nelson, too, said companies with suggestions on the oil spill cleanup are being directed to the Unified Command team.
“We don’t have the expertise on staff to determine whether or not these products could be helpful,” Gulley said. “We’re not scientists here in this office. We’re not the ones who can validate whether a product or idea is helpful. That’s what Unified Command is supposed to be doing.”
Still, Osprey is waiting to hear from BP since it is the party claiming full responsibility for cleaning the spill.
Osprey submitted information on Munox to a BP call center that was opened April 27 to field questions, suggestions and technical solutions for dealing with the oil spill and cleanup.
In addition, Danielson said Osprey submitted information on Munox in an e-mail to BP.
BP spokesperson Heidi Fleick said 110,000 calls have been received at the call center since it opened April 27. Of those, Fleick said 31,600 have been suggestions on how to deal with the spill and more than 8,000 ideas have been submitted to BP on paper. The call center has a staff of 80.
“Given the quantity of technical proposals, it’s taking us some time to review each one,” Fleick said.
BP’s review of these suggestions has at least four stages before a response is given.
Currently, there are 235 suggestions that have reached the fourth stage, of which 90 percent are focused on cleanup ideas for the oil spill.
“We really do appreciate the expertise that is coming forth,” Fleick said. “You can appreciate it is taking some time to do a technical review of these suggestions.”
Should BP decide the Munox produced by Osprey Biotechnics is feasible, Fleick said it will contact the company for further support if needed.
Danielson says the company has enough bacteria to make 170,000 gallons of Munox, and can manufacture much more.
Osprey estimates that 55 gallons of Munox would treat 36.5 square miles of water in the Gulf of Mexico, and a little more than 100 of the 55 gallons would treat 4,000 square miles.
“Mother Nature will take 100 years or more to clean up this mess,” Danielson said. “Our bacteria will significantly speed up the process. Upon application, the bacteria will immediately attack the petroleum hydrocarbons and begin degradation.”
Instead, Osprey Biotechnics must wait to see if BP considers its idea feasible.
“There’s a lot of frustration,” Danielson said. “We have a excellent product that can really help the situation and we can’t get it out there.”