BP, US search for new fix to US oil spill

May 10, 2010 by Guillaume Decamme
Oil is seen on the surface of the water in Gulf of Mexico. BP officials are desperately searching for a new fix to the enormous Gulf of Mexico oil spill after efforts to cap a gushing leak with a containment dome hit a perilous snag.

BP officials desperately searched Monday for a new fix to the enormous Gulf of Mexico oil spill after efforts to cap a gushing leak with a containment dome hit a perilous snag.

British energy giant BP, which owns the lion's share of the leaking oil and has accepted responsibility for the clean-up, is facing the jaw-dropping possibility that, failing a swift fix it has yet to deliver with a containment dome, the crisis could spiral into an even worse environmental calamity.

The White House also was scrambling to contain fallout from the massive disaster threatening to take a toll on President Barack Obama's political and energy agenda.

In Washington, Obama on Monday "will meet with a number of Cabinet members and senior staff in the White House Situation Room to review BP efforts to stop the oil leak, as well as to decide on next steps to ensure all is being done to contain the spread, mitigate the environmental impact and provide assistance to affected states," a White House statement said.

Meanwhile the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said it "continues to work with BP to explore all options that could stop or mitigate oil leaks from the damaged well."

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank some 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Venice, Louisiana April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers.

The riser pipe that had connected the rig to the wellhead now lies fractured on the seabed a mile below, spewing out oil at a rate at some 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

Sheen from the leading edge of the slick has surrounded island nature reserves off the coast of Louisiana and tar balls have reached as far as the Alabama coast, threatening tourist beaches further east.

Sea life is being affected in a low-lying region that contains vital spawning grounds for fish, shrimp and crabs and is a major migratory stop for many species of rare birds.

The 2.4-billion-dollar Louisiana has been slapped with a temporary ban in certain areas due to health concerns about polluted fish.

BP, facing a barrage of lawsuits and clean-up costs soaring above 10 million dollars a day, had pinned its hopes on a 98-ton concrete and steel containment box that it successfully lowered 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) down over the main leak.

But the contraption lay idle on the seabed as engineers furiously tried to figure out how to stop it clogging with ice crystals.

Still, if efforts fail to make the giant funnel system effective, there is no solid plan B to prevent potentially tens of millions of gallons of crude from causing one of the worst ever environmental catastrophes.

Untold damage is already being done by the 3.5 million gallons estimated to be in the sea so far, but the extent of that harm will rise exponentially if the only solution is a relief well that takes months to drill.

Admiral Thad Allen, head of the US Coast Guard, suggested they were considering what he called a "junk shot" to plug the main leak.

"They're actually going to take a bunch of debris, shredded up tires, golf balls and things like that and under very high pressure shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak," Allen, who is leading the US government's response, told CBS television.

This could be risky as experts have warned that excessive tinkering with the blowout preventer -- a huge 450-ton valve system that should have shut off the oil -- could see crude shoot out unchecked at 12 times the current rate.

There are also fears the slick, which covers an area of about 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers), could be carried around the Florida peninsula if it spreads far enough south to be picked up by a special Gulf current.

"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida," warned Florida Senator Bill Nelson.

"You are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training, which is in the ," he told CNN.

On the dome front, clearing out the slushy crystals is easy -- the chamber just has to be raised to warmer levels, Suttles told reporters. Keeping the crystals out so that a pipe can be lowered into the dome to suck the oil to a waiting barge is another matter.

BP began drilling a first relief well one week ago, but that will take up to three months to drill -- by which time some 20 million gallons of crude could have streamed into the sea and ruined the fragile ecology of the Gulf.

Explore further: Mexico investigates mass fish death in lagoon

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RenewableTigger
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2010
What would the problem be with making a funnel and tube from rip-stop material like a hot air balloon is made from? This would be fully collapsable so no water would be inside the tube (say... 3 ft diameter) and it would only open up when an oil bubble formed to rise through it. Given the quite different densities of salt water and oil, I would think the oil would rise on its own in that large of tube (5,000 bbls/day equates to only 140 gpm which would rise vertically only 1/3"/second if the pipe were completely full) faster than the viscosity would be able to hold it together.

This would also set up a stagnant current zone under the now much larger funnel opening which would allow the oil flow to travel straight up, making equipment repair viewing much better.

The long tube could also be allowed to follow the current on it's way to the surface and its oil captured wherever it was easiest to attach to.

Let buoyancy do the work.
alarson
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
A simple and fast fix to stop the Gulf oil leak is to put a set of powerful hydraulic pinchers on the pipeline and when it is in position 'pinch' the pipe closed. leave the pinchers locked on the pipeline if necessary, to stop the pipeline from re-opening. Use a submersible to guide the pinchers to the pipeline.
Fast, simple, and workable.
I've been suggesting this to BP, the coast guard, Transocean, the state of Florida and Louisanna, etc., for the past week.
Why are we still pissing around? It can't be any more simple. If the engineers on the scene can't figure out how to do this, send me an air ticket and I'll come down to show them how.
A Larson
RenewableTigger
not rated yet May 11, 2010
How do you pinch tight a pipe with a large steel rod in it? How do you maneuver this large equipment in place a mile underwater when the robotics are all lightweight.
Skepticus
not rated yet May 12, 2010
If oil is gushing freely in the depth and cold down there without freezing, how hard is it to pre-fill the dome with the same stuff while lowering it? oil is lighter than water, obviously, so it will stay in the dome as it is lowered gently. The weight of the dome is more than enough than the buoyancy force of the oil so it will sink nicely (otherwise how will the dome settles and stays over the leak at the bottom, funneling the oil leak?). On the on the other hand, designing or procuring an industrial size kettle-like electric resistive heating coils attached inside the dome, is too hard, obviously. All that cabling lowering the dome for a mile, and not able to attach powering cables along side???
Skepticus
not rated yet May 12, 2010
...An there are are a few more ways i can think of to keep the dome from being buggered by icy slush before the oil scavenging pipe connection is made:
- A few thermite charges inside the dome triggered remotely . Once ignited, thermite (used to weld train rails) will burn like hell on fire. And it doesn't need air at all.
- pure Magnesium, potassium, sodium metals packages ruptured by small explosives remotely. All these metals react exothermically with water. Plenty of heat.
- a dozen of compressed air tanks with valves controlled remotely, bubbling slowly inside the dome out the pipe attachment opening, starting at depth where ice slushing will be a problem, all the way down to the bottom until oil salvaging pipe connect. You don't need a lot of out-gassing, the bubble movements will facilitate the uninterrupted flow of water through the dome opening. The ice slush at higher pressures than the pressure in the gas bubbles will expand and break up.
Skepticus
not rated yet May 12, 2010
...and here's more: Aerospace LH2 and LOX tanks have slush stirrers that works in the ultra pressure and cold. How hard to procure them? Even any lowly induction electric motor, with not-too-hard insulation of conducing paths between power connectors, will work under water while thoroughly flooded. No need to worry about crushing pressure effects, only that it will work much less efficiently. Have a few to make up the losses.
- Attach one of the deep sea type propulsion (motor-propeller) unit just under the opening of the dome and run it constantly by ship side power umbilical to break off the slush. Rip them off the Trieste or the Alvin, they would work fine at this absurd shallow depth.
- a few dozen tanks of compressed O2/air outside the dome, with remotely controlled valves pipe and an ignition circuitry to the top inside of dome, to burn the oil in situ. Once the dome is plugged by slush, release a bit of air, ignite the oil-air vapor mixture. Boom! No more blocking slush...
Skepticus
not rated yet May 12, 2010
..I have thought of of a few more buggered-dome remedies, but I have to go to collect people's garbage now and pay my tax. I don't want to offend the intellect of all the highly paid engineers doin' their best.