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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Natural Disaster


Houston, We Have a Problem

May 13, 2010 - 5:19 PM | by: David Lee Miller

Although Houston, Texas is hundreds of miles from the Louisiana coastline now bracing for a massive oil spill to come ashore, that’s where BP’s command center is located.

BP engineers, scientists and other experts have been frantically trying to come up with a way to stop the oil leak in the gulf.  At stake is an ecological disaster that threatens to wipe out the regions seafood industry for the foreseeable future. A massive fishing ban is already in place. The area closed accounts for less than 5 percent of the gulf, but is of great importance to New Orleans.

BP’s latest idea is to take a 6-inch pipe and insert it into the 21-inch pipe gushing oil and then divert the flow to a tanker on the surface. Flaps on the small tube would seal out the seawater and prevent the oil from continuing to leak into the ocean.  It seems stopping an oil spill is just as much art as science.

Half a dozen other ideas are reportedly on the drawing boards. One proposal calls for a containment dome similar to the one that failed, but smaller in size. Another idea is to cut off the broken pipe and insert a turnoff valve. If all these ideas sound difficult to put into practice keep in mind they must all be done robotically a mile under the surface of the ocean. Sort of like having one week to learn brain surgery and then being told you must do it blind folded.

Thankfully one idea published in the Russian press hasn’t received a lot of attention. According to the article, during the Soviet era, controlled nuclear explosions were used to seal similar gushing oil pipes. Could be a good idea, at least until something goes wrong.

Then, Houston will really have a problem.

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