May 30, 2010 11:43 pm

Entrepreneurs aim to cash in on crisis

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On the road in to Venice, Louisiana, sits a flatbed truck stacked with orange vinyl boom marked with Chinese characters.

On a paper sign on its side is a phone number to call, for anyone wanting to rent the boom for shoreline protection against the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The owners, Lorne and Scott, from Graham, Texas, do not want to disclose their full names.

When police stop to question them, they admit they do not have a licence to sell boom on the side of the road. The third or fourth day into the crisis, the men got some people on the ground in China to find factories and negotiate supplies.

They now have 55,000 feet, and with large parts of the coastline still unprotected, expect it will be of use in the weeks and months ahead. More is on the way. 

“We saw ... that we were going to run out of boom here,’’ Scott says.

But getting their merchandise into the right hands has proved difficult, as it has for all the other entrepreneurs who see opportunity in the leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I’m trying to get someone to look at my product,’’ says Mark Hearon of MOP Environmental Solutions, maker of a biodegradable mixture that he pulls out in handfuls from a sack in the car park behind the Crystal Cove marina.

Mr Hearon has driven in from Jackson, Mississippi, and is doing demonstrations in a plastic tub filled with water. Sweat is dripping off him in the sweltering heat as he pours oil into the tub, sprinkles the green chunks of his product on top, and then pulls out all the oil-laden absorbent with a net. The water is clean.

He squeezes the oil out of his product back into his measuring cup, showing that it can be saved.

“America’s oil is precious, why not try to reclaim it,’’ Mr Hearon says.

On the other side of the wall is Steve Wenzel of Green Life Technology, who has come in from Alabama with three jars filled with varying shades of gunk.

The only ones interested seem to be the media, and he dutifully gives his spiel over and over in hopes the word of his environmentally friendly dispersant will find its way to the powers that be.

The product is not harmful to marine or wildlife, he says.

BP says it had received tens of thousands of ideas and considers them all. But the little guys believe they are being passed over.

“We’re up against the same thing as the other little guys who can’t get through,’’ Mr Wenzel says.

Late in the day P.J. Hahn, in charge of coastal management for the Plaquemines Parish county that includes Venice, stops to take their hand-outs.

“I bet if I gave everybody a chance and assigned them each a mile of the oil spill, this place would probably be cleaned up overnight,’’ Mr Hahn said. But that is not his decision to make.

“Everything goes through BP,” Mr Hearon says. “But eventually they [the locals] are going to realise it’s up to them to save their marshes.’’

And so the demonstrations continue.

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