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Cousteau Says Technology Can Clean Gulf Oil Now

A dead fish coated in heavy oil floats near shore June 4, 2010 near East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana.
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A dead fish coated in heavy oil floats near shore June 4, 2010 near East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana.

Machines that separate oil from water—even allowing the oil to be refined later—can be on-site in the Gulf of Mexico within days, Jean-Michel Cousteau, president and founder of the Ocean Futures Society, told CNBC Thursday.

Cousteau, who is backing the use of the machines, or units, is on the advisory board of Ecosphere Technologies, which makes them.

Cousteau, the son of legendary sea explorer and ecologist, Jacques Cousteau, said there are 24 to 26 units that are ready to go and in the region. (Watch his comments in detail in the video below.)

The units are mobile water treatment plants, which use a nonchemical oxidation process, Charles Vinick, chairman of Ecosphere Technology, told cnbc.com later on Thursday. Vinick said the units can be placed on barges and taken out to sea. Each unit can process one million gallons of water daily, added the chairman.

Vinick said the units are especially useful in the Gulf spill situation because they don't use chemicals, they break up hydrocarbons and they can handle high volume.

Vinick added that the oxygenation process brings much-needed oxygen to plant life in the marshes, which are robbed of it when they are coated with crude oil. The process of adding oxygen also revives sea life.

Cousteau said he has been talking with BP and government officials about employing the machines. The delay in putting the Ecosphere products to work, Cousteau believes, is not a matter of money, but of BP employees being busy considering many different options.

To handle the oil at the gushing leak site, Cousteau supports using another unit to be built by Ecosphere.

Instead of pouring chemical dispersants down a pipe at the leak, the Ecosphere unit would be used to inject millions of oxygenated microscopic bubbles through the pipe to drive oil to the surface. The oil can then be captured in a boom and collected on-site. That machine will be available in one to three months, said Cousteau.

Cousteau said the practice of dispersing chemicals into the Gulf has been a mistake because it kills marine life.

He called the Deepwater Horizon spill, which started on April 20, “more than likely the most dramatic disaster that has been man-made or man-provoked.”

The gulf region will suffer, added Cousteau, for decades to come.

"It's [the oil spill is] a major, if I may say, kick in the butt," said Cousteau, "that is going to make us people, our species, change and protect the sea's life support system."