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Lightstep on board to clean up Gulf of Mexico

An oil safety institute is to be established in Northern Ireland following the launch of an innovative new product that aims to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Shareholders in Lightstep Technologies have backed an oil recovery rig created by Brighton-based engineering company Ultra Green which they are confident will play a major role in the Deepwater Horizon explosion recovery.

The product — a 21 metre long roller fitted to boats with a special membrane that can soak up surface oil to a depth of five metres — is now set to be tested in the US on July 4.

If successful a flotilla of 168 boats, mainly owned by fishermen, is lined up to be fitted with the rigs, which can collect 25,000 gallons of oil a day.

Northern Ireland investors in safety evacuation system manufacturer Lightstep have funded the first boat through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) and will share in the profits from the oil recovered. Part of the deal will also result in some manufacturing of future products based in Northern Ireland and the establishment of the new research base.

Kieran Patterson, director of Lightstep, said: “The first test run is on July 4 but we’ve already tested it and we know it lifts the oil quickly. There will be an immediate ramp up. We’ve agreed that, once the test boat is approved and starts to lift oil, this whole machine that has been organised to get more boats into the water will happen as soon as possible.

“The first boat will secure a safe commitment from the American government towards funding. We have set up an oil desk to buy the oil recovered and once the oil starts to make profit we’ll start to pay the government back.”

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He added: “The money for this will come back into the Northern Ireland economy because we |have negotiated that the oil |recovered and the ownership of the SPV — a percentage of that comes back to Northern Ireland, to create jobs and to set up an oil safety institute.”

Ultra Green director Tony Blakey said Lightstep’s technology and global model, plus the engineering expertise in Northern Ireland, makes it an ideal base for research into safety in the oil industry and for manufacturing related products.

“A question we’ve been asked is why are you putting an oil safety institute in Belfast and not in Houston? The answer is that there are no oil companies there to interfere,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity out of this to revive manufacturing in Northern Ireland,” he added.

BP has said the cost of cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil leak has now reached $2.65bn (£1.76bn).

Mr Blakey and Mr Patterson said they have so far received little assistance from BP or the British government.

“The sadest thing is that everything is having to be done privately. There isn’t any help from the British Government or BP. The only people that take this seriously are Washington. We send a report to them every night but we are having to fund it all ourselves at the moment. I expect the White House will step in later but at the moment we’re having to do everything, even hiring Chinook helicopters to make that July 4 deadline,” said Mr Blakey.

“BP are so busy that they can’t see what’s under their noses, which is that we’ve got the solution.”