The good news is that BP finally succeeded in cutting through the outflow pipe in order to prepare for the cap that will be placed on the Deepwater Horizon well, perhaps as early as this afternoon. The bad news is that they had to abandon the precision saw first deployed and instead go with shears, which left a jagged cut rather than a “surgical” slice. That may mean a poor seal and a continual leak into the Gulf of Mexico, as ABC News reports, until the relief wells get installed during August:
BP successfully cut the lower marine riser pipe at 10 a.m., using giant shears 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea, but it was a “more jagged cut” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters, and therefore will be a looser fitting seal.
Now a containment dome with a rubber seal will be lowered over the severed pipe. Allen called the cut a “significant step forward” and said the leak could be largely sealed today.
This morning Allen told “GMA” that he hopes they will begin funneling oil to the surface as early as today, a long as nothing goes wrong.
Unfortunately, plenty has already gone wrong with BP’s efforts to “plug the damn hole.” This is the seventh attempt to stop the flow, and an earlier attempt to place a cap on the damaged well turned out badly. An earlier video report shows the problems inherent in this plan, especially with a less precise cut:
The nuclear option has been roundly dismissed by the US government, but if the seventh time proves just as charmless as the previous six, that may start getting more serious consideration. It would have the effect of actually sealing the hole, but the optics of bombing the site with a nuke will be, shall we say, somewhat problematic. The environmental impact would be completely unknown, and even if it did succeed, the Gulf would have to be kept under close observation for years to check for ill effects. If the oil spill damaged commercial interests in the Gulf, being known as a nuked body of water probably won’t help business recover.
There’s a potential solution to the Gulf oil spill that neither BP, nor the federal government, nor anyone — save a couple intuitive engineers — seems willing to try. As The Politics Blog reported on Tuesday in an interview with former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, the untapped solution involves using empty supertankers to suck the spill off the surface, treat and discharge the contaminated water, and either salvage or destroy the slick.
Hofmeister had been briefed on the strategy by a Houston-based environmental disaster expert named Nick Pozzi, who has used the same solution on several large spills during almost two decades of experience in the Middle East — who says that it could be deployed easily and should be, immediately, to protect the Gulf Coast. That it hasn’t even been considered yet is, Pozzi thinks, owing to cost considerations, or because there’s no clear chain of authority by which to get valuable ideas in the right hands. But with BP’s latest four-pronged plan remaining unproven, and estimates of company liability already reaching the tens of billions of dollars (and counting), supertankers start to look like a bargain.
The suck-and-salvage technique was developed in desperation across the Arabian Gulf following a spill of mammoth proportions — 700 million gallons — that has until now gone unreported, as Saudi Arabia is a closed society, and its oil company, Saudi Aramco, remains owned by the House of Saud. But in 1993 and into ‘94, with four leaking tankers and two gushing wells, the royal family had an environmental disaster nearly sixty-five times the size of Exxon Valdez on its hands, and it desperately needed a solution.
That’s a solution that could be in place now, working in parallel with the efforts to stop the flow at 5,000 feet below the surface. Whether or not the latter works, we still need a way to deal with the oil already in the water.
Update: The Week has more on the nuclear option. The Soviets tried it five times, four of them successes, but all were above ground. The upside on it could be a quick glassy plug. The possible downside? The end to most life on Earth. How’d you like to have to decide that?