Oil spill: Spreading the problem-solving around

In a move that probably should have happened sooner, but I'm frankly glad is happening at all, the newly established Interagency Alternative Technology Assessment Program has put out an open call for white papers describing alternative (Read: Anything we haven't tried already) solutions for the oil spill—everything from damage assessment and restoration to wellhead control. I think this is great news and I'm hoping that some of you have the technical expertise to have new ideas or improved ideas that could help. Time for Makers to be big damn heroes. That said, if you have an idea and you don't have a background in this kind of engineering, talk to somebody who does before you call the number in the link above. Reaching out to a bigger brain trust is a good thing, but we don't want to bog this program down with purely speculative concepts at a time when it needs to be moving with a quickness.


  1. Penny Arcade had a great suggestion today.

    Turn it into a video game and we’ll have it sealed up in no time.

  2. I have an idea. Why don’t we go back and _actually_ regulate BP (and the other oil companies?
    Or, we could start now, since there are bound to more spills like this, or the current one in Nigeria if we don’t actually have a serious and muscular regulation scheme.
    This isn’t really an engineering problem any more than the epidemic of obesity (and related illnesses) is a problem for the surgeons and biochemists. We need to realize as a country that the “free” market (or trusting big corporations) has failed and we need a better way of representing and protecting the interests of our children and grandchildren. Our government certainly isn’t the best way to do this, but it is the best we’ve got.

  3. Insert some kind of giant rubber balloon, expand by filling with seawater and hope it seals the tube rather than being blown out again.

    1. ^^ This… some sort of inflatable rubber balloon.
      It can be fed into the pipe with a rigid pole. Once in place, a pump can feed a liquid into it to inflate.

  4. Remove the BOP and drop a huge slab of concrete on the well head.

    If that is not practicle detonate a Bunker Buster on it and if that does not stop the flow, fill the crater with concrete.

    Sounds childishly simplistic but makes sense to me. :)

  5. Remove the legal fiction of “personhood” enjoyed by corporations, so that actual human beings are legally responsible for company actions.

  6. The things that BP can do right now, they aren’t even doing properly. Like installing the booms correctly:

  7. BB wrote: “That said, if you have an idea and you don’t have a background in this kind of engineering, talk to somebody who does before you call the number in the link above. Reaching out to a bigger brain trust is a good thing, but we don’t want to bog this program down with purely speculative concepts at a time when it needs to be moving with a quickness.”

    I must disagree, with caveats. If there is a silver bullet or bullets, who is to say what the idea(s) may be and where they might come from? Who is to say that the most obscure, left-field notions might fit into some pre-existing concepts to make a bright, shining Solution?

    If you talk to an engineer, keep in mind that there are two kinds of engineers in this world – the ones who minds are flexible and open, and the ones whose minds are rigid and closed. Guess which is in the minority?

    Example: TabulaRasa has some sort of an idea about a giant rubber balloon. Unfortunately, he/she is a bit obscure on the details. Draw a picture, write a detailed description. There are no bad ideas, only bad articulations of effective or ineffective ideas.

  8. What about using microbes? A friend sent me this video explainig how oil devouring microbes can clean up oil spills.


    I know little to nothing about microbes but it seems legit to me. Does anyone know why this hasn’t been brought up?

    1. In my personal experience, the kind of microorganisms that live on oil products are aggressive eaters that are hard to kill.

      The bacteria that were eating the road that I bodily interacted with began to eat me. Until they removed the affected tissue, the infection was one that my body (and the I.V. antibiotics they gave me)could not defeat.

      The biotech that you are thinking of is not new, I first heard of this type of thing over twenty-five years ago. (When I was trying to assess my future risk of infection from the aforementioned road interaction due to the bacterial spores that are probably encapsulated in my bones!) What else would these organisms eat, given that there is so many generations worth of food there, and mutations do occur…

  9. There’s a Facebook fan page for those who want to “plug the Gulf oil leak using the works of Ayn Rand.”

    Too bad that won’t actually work, proving once again how worthless the works of Ayn Rand are.

  10. @ Anon

    I’m even worse at drawing than I am with english. Not my native language, sorry. I’ll still try.

    Everyone knows those balloon clowns use to make animals or other funny stuff of, right? Imagine a balloon like that, which you stick into the tube / hole. Then you start inflating it by injecting seawater or whatever. Balloon expands, and hopefully if you inject enough seawater or something else with sufficient pressure, starts to expand further into the drill hole. As long as the pressure inside the balloon is higher than the pressure coming from the oil, the ballon should stay in place. At least i think so.

  11. If only Billy Mays were still around, that darned cap could have been fixed with Mighty Putty! It fixes anything for only $19.95!!

  12. #6 1st and I realize this is totally off topic, but I am so hot for you right now. and I want to go to boom school. :)

    2nd i see your point, hope the video gets more attention. I saw a pic of the mass of the spill. Now I don’t watch television, but I live northeast of Mobile, and I’ve hung out in on Dauphin, redneck riviera,whatever. Is there more efficient booming? Can one of the local govm’t call disaster and enlist the aid of the private citizens? I’m a complete blue water neophyte, but could shrimpers and trawlers help in booming… or is this area of the Gulf screwed. oh, sorry, f***king screwed?

  13. A lot of people don’t really know any engineers, who I’m sure don’t like to have their day interrupted by strangers with non-business questions.
    But throwing ideas around in a forums can’t hurt and may even yield positive results.
    That said, my idea would be to possibly lower a tube down to at least try and siphon some of the oil off straight from the leak to try and minimise the damage whilst other ideas are tried.
    Perhap they are, I don’t know.
    Repercussions need to happen of course, but for now the focus of everyone and of BP in particular needs to be on containing, repairing then cleaning this holocaust.

  14. what about a giant magnetic ball thats a bit larger than the pipe right over the pipe opening?

  15. Obama might be right, this might be a ‘teaching moment’ to get people interested in alternative technologies, but I kind of doubt it.

    We might pull some of our social investment out of automobiles and put some back into rail and mass transit…

    We might change local zoning laws to make it legal to build a walkable neighborhood.

    We might build a regulatory system with enough spine to insist that calling SUVs ‘trucks’ does not make them exempt from mileage and emissions standards.

    We might stop subsidizing the true price of oil with general tax revenues, so gas costs here what they pay in Europe and other more civilized countries.

    We might admit to ourselves and to the world that the US is in both Afghanistan and Iraq for reasons having little to do with revenge for a certain terror attack, but everything to do with oil that we otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

    We might see advertising move back to the inside of the city bus, where people who have money might see it, instead of only seeing PSAs clearly intended for people who can’t afford to drive like normal folk.

    We might abolish the shopping mall and big box store, with their ‘efficient’ low wages and cheaply made stuff, in favor of local mom and pop stores that contribute to local economies.

    We might stop insisting that private individuals be able to store their private property on public land at public expense. All that parking spaces could be put to much better use than keeping a car on it for convenience sake.

    We might stop treating bicycles as toys and sports items, and give them the kind of roads and right of ways that we’d expect a real transportation system to need.

    We might draw a connection between starving polar bears, global warming, and this oil addiction- and sign the Kyoto treaty.

    We might reverse the rules distinguishing voting stock from non-voting stock, and go back to where it was all voting stock: you make money off something, you have to take some moral responsibility for it.

    For that matter, we might re-visit this whole idea of “limited liability” altogether. When a company can wreck so much havoc in generating a profit for itself, why not make the shareholders financially liable for their investments?

    …And in order to make any of these smaller goals happen, we might need to have a revolution.


    Before wasting time working out fine details of your plan, make sure to check it against the comment threads over at
    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6562 (the current thread, they’re running one or two per day on the spill response.

    (and especially check previous threads from the past week.) There’s a very good ratio of highly experienced offshore drilling engineers, scientifically literate normal folks with an interest, and people with plans that start “Why don’t they just…” There are some very, very experienced and knowledgable domain experts over there. Despite the heavy industry presence, the site’s mainly about peak oil, so there’s essentially no apologists for BP.

    I also STRONGLY recommend reading the interim “incident report” http://energycommerce.house.gov/documents/20100527/BP.Presentation.pdf to understand what the well looks like below the mudline, and what is believed to have gone wrong in the first place: the casing and cement has failed ~1000′ below the mudline, and oil’s flowing up the annulus.

    In particular if you’ve got a cunning plan for securely mating the new LMRP cap onto the cut-off stub of the old riser on top of the BOP, forget it. They can’t make a forced tight seal because of the risk that the increase in pressure will either cause the BOP to fail completely, or the flow to divert out into the formation or mud — either outcome would be much worse than the present state of affairs and impossible to fix until the relief wells arrive in late August (if we’re lucky) or September.

    NO! They can’t just pour rocks on it; there’s a thousand foot of mud below the BOP.

  17. What about a giant, weighted, “shower curtain” draped around the leak- encourage all the oil to rise to the same area on the surface, and have tankers near by to siphon it away.

  18. I’m an engineer, but not anywhere near this field. For someone who DOES work in the field, read http://adropofrain.net/2010/05/shelburn-deepwater-horizon-a-possible-history-of-the-leak/

    However, here are some things that might help with your ideas, though please do doublecheck all facts.

    a) There were three leaks. One, from the end of a drill pipe, was capped pretty fast. Then there was one from a split where the 21″ pipe kinked above the BOP, and of course one from the end of the pipe.

    That’s changed: they’ve just chopped off the 4000-5000ft (1.5km) of “riser” hose, just above the BOP, so there’s only one outlet for the leak.

    b) As pointed out above, capping and sealing the pipe could cause a blowout much lower, in the mud, where you couldn’t get at it.

    c) There are up to a million gallons a day going through the 21 inch hole. Estimates vary. I think BP’s claiming it’s only leaking about 500,000 gal a day, but their estimates keep rising. So, call it five to ten gallons a second of thick, viscous goop.

    d) It’s about a mile under water. The water pressure is about 140 atmospheres, so any solution must work at those pressures.

    e) Estimates for the “well head pressure” are in the order of about 10,000 PSI. Put another way, for a giant to hold their thumb over the end of the 21 inch pipe, they’d need to press down with a force equivalent to 1,700 tons.

    f) Despite what people are saying, we are not yet facing anything like the “worst case” scenario. Worst case would be where the whole oil field comes ashore at once. So far, we’ve only seen a few weeks’ worth: there are decades worth of oil in there. So, attempted fixes (like setting off nukes over the oilfield) *could* make the situation much, much worse by coating the whole ocean in thick layers of radioactive black ooze.

    g) The sea there is not calm: 50ft swells are not uncommon.

    I really like that “shower curtain” idea. It completely avoids all the “pressure” problems. It could be sealed at the top, or not: both methods would work.

  19. It would seem there is a major solution at least to the cleanup side. It’ s one the Government won’t consider, get this, because of the environmental impact! The Dutch have skimmers that can suck up the oil, separate it, and put the seawater back in the Gulf. The Government won’t accept this method, they say the water is not pure and has some drops of oil still in it. Considering the scale of the disaster, it would be a smaller price to pay in order to help clean up the bigger problem. Another option would be to capture the water to be put back in the Gulf into another ship so it could be cleaned more throughly. Reference the following link:


  20. Tie a rope around the moon, pull it closer so we have monster tides. Then, just walk down to the well and fix it! Problem solved!

  21. I have an idea that may keep more oil from spreading into the Gulf.

    Picture a very long, over a mile long, flexible hose with a large diameter, say 10 to 15 foot in diameter. One end would be open to a containment vessel on land or at sea, and the other end would descend to the oil well head site and surround the openings the oil is spewing from. Placing the open end of a 10 to 15 foot diameter hose over the oil well head should not require as much accuracy as some of the other methods that have been tried. This hose should be impervious to the oil. The crude oil, being less dense than sea water, should rise up through the hose and be pumped out the other end and collected. Of course one would need a hose that is at least a mile long! If such a hose did exist, however, much of the dispersion of the crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico should be minimized. Anyways, this is just my “two cents”. Hope this stimulates some more thought! Ed

  22. worst case: blow it from underneath through the (horizontal) relief shafts? maybe use an upper one to create an ‘obstruction’. doubt possible but good spirit here. this is a toughie there is nothing to hold-on-to.

  23. Since methane hydrate is stable at the conditions near the wellhead (as shown by the original ‘dome’ debacle), why not inject seawater through the BOP to encourage the formation of hydrates where they will actiually do some good (ie. inside the BOP) by restricting the flow path through the BOP and evenvtually plugging the line.

  24. Put a long open-ended hose over the head that runs up to the surface into a holding ship. This would allow the oil to be to be captured, while a solution is found to cap it.

  25. Oil Spill Eater II There was a non toxic Alternative to clean up the spill that has been successfully tested by BP after 10 months of spill damages. The Coast Guard sent a letter from headquarters stating to the FOSC to take action with OSE II, and the EPA, Lisa Jackson stopped the Coast Guard from allowing BP from implementing OSE II. In fact the EPA stopped the application of OSE II 11 times denying State Senators direct request for use of OSE II from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. La Department of environmental requested the use of OSE II as well, EPA’s Sam Coleman denied their request without reason. Governor Jindal tried to get OSE II demonstrated on the Chandelier Islands on May 6, 2010, and the EPA stopped the Governor as well. The EPA in fact stopped the use of OSE II 11 times, without a reason given. Had the EPA allowed Governor Jindal to allow the demonstration of OSE II on May 6, 2010, it is possible a significant portion of the environmental damages, including the shorelines and the seafood industry would have been spared. The toxicty test comparison between OSE II and corexit really cannot be compared since with corexit, the label states it can cause red blood cells to burst, kidney, and liver problems if a chemical suit and respirator are not worn. OSE II in contrast can be used to wash your hands and is non toxic. The BP Deep Horizon spill has proven that corexit only sinks oil and causes the same oil to be addressed a second time when it comes ashore as under water plumes, or tar balls, while OSE II has a substantiated end point of converting oil to CO2 and water. See Coast Guard letter below

    U. S. Department
    of Homeland Security
    United States
    Coast Guard

    Commanding Officer 1 Chelsea Street
    U. S. Coast Guard New London, CT 06320
    Research and Development Center Staff Symbol: Contracting Office
    Phone: (860) 271-2807

    July 10, 2010

    OSEI Corporation
    P.O. Box 515429
    Dallas, TX 75251

    Attn: Steven Pedigo, President/Owner


    We are pleased to inform you that the initial screening of your White Paper submitted under Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) HSCG32-10-R-R00019 has been completed. It has been determined that your White Paper submission has a potential for benefit to the spill response effort.

    Your White Paper has been forwarded to the Deepwater Horizon Response Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) for further action under its authority. Subject to the constraints and needs of the ongoing oil spill response, you may be contacted by the FOSC or the responsible party.

    We appreciate your interest in supporting the Deepwater Horizon Response effort.

    Contracting Officer /s/
    USCG R&D Center

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