Jessica Fleming, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published July 22 2010
Detroit Lakes man claims he invented BP capST. PAUL – It’s a Minnesota fix for an international problem.
Or is it?
A Detroit Lakes man who says he invented the cap to plug the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has a tantalizing story – one that has been the subject of reports by two Twin Cities television stations – but BP officials say Blake Mastin’s story is false.
“The capping system that is being used on the Deepwater Horizon’s (blowout preventer) is not based on this individual’s design,” BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said in an e-mail.
Mastin, 27, whose given name is Blake Andrew Sundvor, has a long criminal record and is being discharged from the National Guard for lying about a felony conviction.
Associates say he has a history of telling tall tales and duping business partners. It is unclear what Mastin would have to gain from telling a false story about the cap.
“He’s a young man with some problems, some issues,” said former landlord Mark Heard, who confirmed that he evicted Mastin in March. “But he could charm the stripes off a zebra.”
In a story that appeared Monday on KSTP-TV and also in interviews with the Pioneer Press, Mastin made a number of claims about the cap design, most of which could not be verified.
Mastin said the three-ram capping stack installed atop the well last week was his design – with modifications made by BP engineers. He said he had applied for a patent for the concept and BP had paid him millions of dollars for his work.
“They paid me,” Mastin said in an interview last week. “I got a lump sum and so much of every gallon pulled off the well for eight years. By the time it’s all said and done, it’ll be close to $780 million.”
BP denies that the design was his or that he was paid for it.
“Premise is untrue,” Beaudo wrote. “He’s fibbing.”
Mastin said last week that BP did not want the public to know who designed the cap.
“They’re pretty tight-lipped about what’s going on,” Mastin said. “They wanted to be a white knight in this thing.”
The U.S. Patent Office does not list an application or a pending patent for Blake Mastin or Blake Sundvor.
Mastin told KSTP on Monday night and the Pioneer Press on Tuesday that he was going to testify before Congress on Wednesday. KSTP also reported that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s office was going to help him prepare for the hearing. KSTP recanted part of its story Tuesday.
None of today’s Capitol Hill hearing schedules lists Blake Mastin or Blake Sundvor.
“We have not been able to confirm that he has been asked to testify in Congress,” Franken spokesman Mark Kimball said. “We don’t have any plans to help him.”
Mastin did contact an intern at Franken’s office, complaining that BP was misusing his design, Kimball said, but no further conversations took place on the issue.
When a Pioneer Press reporter asked Mastin later Tuesday afternoon if he had been helped by Franken’s staff, he changed his story, saying, “No, I was just talking to one of their people.”
Mastin said he came up with the cap design during the 2009 floods in Fargo when he was serving with the Minnesota Army National Guard. He later joined the North Dakota Army National Guard.
“They were trying to fix a water main that busted when they did work at the dike,” Mastin said. “I was just kind of arrogant and said, ‘I can do it better than you.’
“We got with a company in Fargo who built what I designed, and we capped it in less than six hours.”
North Dakota Guard spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Amy Wilson said the Guard did not use a device such as the one Mastin described.
“That’s not to say it wasn’t used elsewhere,” Wilson said.
Fargo officials, reached Tuesday afternoon, said they could not confirm on short notice whether Mastin’s design was used. But at least one engineer said he had not heard of Mastin or his design.
Mastin said the first thing he did with the money from BP was buy his grandfather a new truck. Then, he said, he bought a $3 million house on Detroit Lake.
Property records from Becker County do not show that Mastin (or Blake Sundvor) owns a home.
Late Tuesday, Mastin explained the lack of records by saying he had not yet closed on the house.
A post on Mastin’s Facebook page from Saturday implies otherwise:
“I can only sit back in my 3.7 million dollar pad doing laps in my pool or playing on my tennis court,” it reads.
Mastin said he had a mechanical engineering background and was finishing a degree from the Colorado School of Mines. But a database of current and former students does not contain the name Blake Mastin or Blake Sundvor.
Mastin has two felony convictions from 2005 – one for theft and one for issuing a dishonored check. He also has a gross misdemeanor conviction from 2003 for theft.
Other, lesser crimes in his background range from a litany of dishonored checks to a domestic assault.
Records obtained from the Detroit Lakes Police Department describe a few of the crimes.
In November 2002, the owner of a Detroit Lakes construction company complained that someone was charging gas to his account at a local gas station.
When police approached Mastin, he said he had charged the gas for a construction company employee to whom he was giving rides to work. He told police the employee had been authorized to charge gas. Police later learned the man Mastin described had never worked for the company.
Mastin was convicted of felony theft in the incident, in which police said more than $500 in gas was charged.
Mastin also was convicted of felony theft after a 2003 incident in which he was accused of taking a $1,000 gauge cluster from a truck parked on a dealership lot in Detroit Lakes.
His mother, Becki Mastin of Lakeville, acknowledged that her son has had a troubled past. She said he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child and attended special-education classes. He struggled in school, she said.
Mastin grew up floating between her Eagan home and his grandfather’s house in Detroit Lakes, his mother said.
She stood behind Mastin’s claim that he designed the cap.
“He gets off the phone (with BP executives) and tells you the names, and it’s just overwhelming,” Becki Mastin said. “It’s all the people you hear about on the news.”
She said Mastin had a troubled relationship with his father, Thomas Sundvor, and that was why he wanted to change his name.
A June 16 segment on KARE-TV first described Mastin and his invention.
Mastin told a KARE reporter that he had hired a lawyer to help him peddle his idea to BP.
Tom Lindner, news director for KARE-11, said at the time that it was just a quick story about somebody with an idea.
“If you recall, a month ago, the whole world was looking for a cure,” Lindner said. “We didn’t endorse it, we just put the idea into public discussion.”
KARE declined to run a follow-up story this week after Franken’s office wouldn’t confirm Mastin’s claim, Lindner said.
KSTP reporter Chris O’Connell said he hadn’t checked Mastin’s background before airing the story. Shortly after the Pioneer Press questioned O’Connell on Tuesday, the station updated its report.
As for Mastin, when asked Tuesday about some of the discrepancies in his story, he hung up on a reporter and did not return a subsequent voicemail.
But responding earlier as to why BP engineers hadn’t come up with the cap first, Mastin had a quick answer.
“I have no idea,” Mastin said. “You have to think outside the box sometimes.”