Why Can’t They Just Stop the Leak?

June 10, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
gulf oil bought by Standard Oil became Amoco bought by BP (Creative Commons via Flikr)

Gulf Oil bought by Standard Oil rebranded Amoco bought by BP (Creative Commons via Flikr)

I’ve been watching the Gulf Oil leak reports with a technical eye. They report that citizens have sent in over 100,000 suggestions on how to stop the leak, and more on how to clean it up. It’s so simple: Just plug it.

But I’d wager that the bulk of the suggestions are innumerate; they have no comprehension of the scale of the problem. As though the oil leak is like oil dripping from a car.

This is a column of oil at least 2 feet wide and thousands of feet long already moving fast and under pressure. Stopping it is like stopping a freight train with the engines running. And doing it in one of the the harshest environments man has ever tried to work in on this planet.

Many of the clean up suggestions, even the ones based on home testing, neglect to consider the scale. What might work in a sink is not practical to do to an ocean. BP has already consumed most of the world’s available dispersant Corexit™ in an attempt to keep much of the oil suspended in the water. Sawdust? Hay? Hair? There isn’t enough on all the heads in America. People, please  do basic arithmetic before sending in suggestions.

I heard one fairly clever suggestion from a brother-in-law: Freeze it with liquid nitrogen. My instincts first boggled at the immense cost of doing it. But then I considered and replied with a more convincing argument: Consider wrapping a fire hose in dry ice. All you get is a hole in the dry ice because any cooled material is moved down the pipe before it can slow the flow. I looked up some more details when I got home: Nitrogen won’t even evaporate at the the pressure down by the wellhead.

I think it’s great that people are thinking. But it also shows the world how distinct thinking is from reasoning.


Category: Current Events, Economy, Education, Environment, ignorance, Media, nature

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (4)

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  1. Douglas Muir says:

    Further regarding my suggested balloon-like oil catcher. It is far better for the oil removal pipe to enter the oil mass from below, because it eliminates the need for a joint to pass the pipe through the fabric of the catcher. Ocean currents will buffet the balloon around, risking tearing the fabric at any such joint. I don't see heating the pipe as a major challenge.

  2. Mailbox says:

    I simply cannot believe that not only was no preparation done with a viable way to control THE possible worst case (uh, the ONLY thing that ciould go wrong, really), but that they cannot shove a 150 meter pipe that is slightly narrower than the hole, down the hole with a Q-tip shaped end.

    The insertion end would stuff the space between the wall of the hole and the pipe, allowing the oil to flow up the pipe (only) and be directed to the surface via coupled piping above.

    C'MON… who are the dumb fks at BP that cannot figure out a solution? This one might not be the best… but I think it would work even at 1 mile down and cold temps. One the pipe is inserted and the oil is control (even mostly) then you can shove top-kill or tony Hayward around the pipe, done the hole as needed to stop the rest!!

  3. Doing things on the cheap is a tradition. Read about the Johnstown Flood and go from there. The folks at BP crossed their fingers and hoped the worst case scenario would just never happen and it would save them a lot of money.

    This is what people seem to not understand about the so-called Free Market economy. The bottom line almost always comes to dictate everything and coming in under budget is the holy grail.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    Mailbox suggests one of the impractical solutions that we'd covered in the lost comments. This simple operation is comparable to the backyard operation of using a remote controlled helicopter on a gusty day to insert a long straw into the end of a garden hose with the water running and an obstruction a few inches inside the hose. Try it. If you can do this, then BP can use your help.

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