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11 May 2010

Ideas: Solving BP oil leaks disasters

Idea A: Drill 1 new pipeline hole to stop leaks at 3 others

1. At 5,000ft below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, what with the swirling detritus of the seafloor organic and inorganic matter and the distance from the top, everything is dark, murky and swept by powerful sea currents. Submersibles with robotic hands can hardly operate, even with bright lamps, due to black murkiness and strong currents that prevent steady operations of the robotic hands, which in any case, are slow, clumsy and not flexible, even when controlled by skilled operators on a surface ship.

2. To stop the leaks of crude from the broken 3 pipeline holes, go UPSTREAM from the 3 holes to a place on the pipe at a location that is more ideal, and attempt to stop the leaks from there. Plugging 1 hole, at a place of your choosing, is much easier than trying to plug 3 holes at inconvenient spots NOT of your choosing.

3. So, at a convenient upstream spot, use the submersibles to drill a hole into the pipeline and then pump in grout that will harden to plug the flow of crude. Thus, no more flow of crude to the downstream 3 holes, which can then be repaired in less urgency. This new, drilled hole can also divert the crude into uptake pipes.

Idea B: Flatten the pipe to stop/reduce leaks

1. Flatten or Deform the steel pipe at a chosen point, like we crush an empty aluminium drinks can. If the steel pipe is flattened enough, little crude will flow through, notwithstanding Bernoulli's Principle, since crude is very thick, so not a true fluid. With the leaks slowed to a trickle, other measures like grouting or even repairing of the 3 holes can then be done.

2. Experiment to test this principle and to determine the best size and shape of the Weight as well as the Bottom Flat Steel Plate. Begin on land, with different lengths of steel pipe similar to the BP pipes -- empty [no need to fill with crude because that is not material to this technique. In fact, the crude will probably make for more even deformation]. But do place the pipe lengths on soft, sandy areas resembling the seabed where the pipes rest in the Gulf of Mexico. This is important.

3. Use a heavy weight several times wider than the pipe diameter, with a smooth, flat surface underneath, preferably steel plate, to slowly deform the steel pipe when slowly lowered onto the pipe lengths. So little or no crude can flow through. However, simply lowering the steel weight [or concrete block bolted with steel plate underneath], simply pushes the pipe down into the sand [seabed] so deformation is impossible and in fact, may even break the pipe at other places leading to even more catastrophic leaking of crude.

4. So, to prevent the pipe from sinking below the Weight, use a submersible-equivalent in this experiment to push a flat, steel plate of sufficient thickness and large enough surface area to spread out the pressure and to ensure that when the Weight is lowered, the pipe flattens instead of sinking into the seabed. Steel plates are cheap, easily available and quickly welded or bolted together to the desired thickness and size [if bolts, grind flat any protrusions so as not to puncture the pipe during flattening].

5. This bottom flat plate is quickly and easily made and quite easily lowered into position onto the seabed and pushed under the pipe at the desired Flattening Point. The Weight can be a concrete block bolted at the bottom with a flat, thick steel plate to present a flat bottom for even deformation.

6. All lowering of the bottom flat plate and the crucial Weight will be guided by steel ropes pre-installed and anchored to the seabed [or Bottom Flat Steel Plate after it is in position], extending from the surface crane ship down to the pipe at the desired flattening point. With these guiding steel ropes, the top Weight can be lowered slowly and accurately down to the pipe, probably sliding down through bolted rings at all corners, as steel ropes at every corner lower each corner accurately, even in pitching seas and strong currents.

7. If the dry land experiment works and you have got all the dimensions, shapes and weights right, try another experiment in shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico before attempting the real thing. If all goes well, you would have a flattened [deformed] pipe through which little crude flows, which will give you ample time to do the other conventional solutions.

Idea C: Controlled explosion to block up gushing oil well

1. Oil wells are 5-36 inch diameter holes sheathed with steelpipe casing, with cement filler between 1 or more casings. The BP gusher, before the accident, extended from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, down through 5,000ft of seawater, then down through soft seabed sand and sediment, down through harder rock, probably of several different geologies, before reaching the oil field contained and trapped below impervious rock.

2. A controlled explosion in the impervious rock next to or very near the gusher can block up the gusher. This can be done by drilling a small-diameter hole down, parallel to the oil well pipe, to a chosen spot inside impervious rock, next to or very near the oil well pipe, lower explosive to that spot and detonate. The resulting explosion will pulverise the rock around it, in an expanding spherical shockwave, and hopefully, this shockwave, on reaching the nearby oil well pipe, will either deform the pipe, or cause it to bend or even break, thereby plugging the oil well pipe with the pulverised rock bits.

3. There is a slight risk of the explosion setting the natural gas on fire but this should not last long. Crude doesnt burn. Besides, this explosion-fire is inside rock below 5,000ft of seawater, so little danger of a self-sustaining fire. BP's geologists and their records during the initial drilling, should know what the rock formation layers are and roughly how deep each rock formation layer is. Anyway, to get a rough estimate of the power of explosive needed, do experiments on land. Bore a hole on land and create the same type of oil well pipe, in roughly the same type of rock. After a couple of blasts, you would know how much explosive to use and how much deformation or bend/break in the pipe this blast will cause.

4. The experiments will quickly determine roughly the optimum distance down for the blast, how near to the oil well pipe and how big a blast is needed. Depending on the power of the explosive, and how near to the seabed floor, the explosion may shake up things and objects on the seabed floor, possibly damaging some things nearby, given that water is incompressible and will transmit the shockwave well. If the explosion occurs in non-impervious rock, a broken pipe may still leak crude through the porous rock layer somewhat, although far less than its current rate of gushing leaks.

5. For easier detonation, you may want to do it by remote control [if possible through the many layers of rock] or even by delayed timer after the hole has been drilled and you are sure you can successfully lower the explosive to its rightful location before the explosive goes off when the timer has counted down to zero. You may also want to PLUG the drill hole so that the blast does not shoot up the drill hole, reducing its explosive power. I don't think a shaped charge [used against armour] will work but explosive experts can advise on this.

Idea D: Gravel Bed water treatment method to clean oil slicks

1. Once the oil well leaks are reduced to a trickle, cleanup can begin. The simplest idea is to massively suck up the oil slicks using fast-moving skimmers or boats that can quickly suck up a large area of slick while moving through them, and then onboard the boat, very quickly FILTER the oil and then pump back the relatively cleaned seawater back into the sea. Since the oil slicks are massive, the boats will have to move fast, suck up massive volumes per minute, and filter fast [so the filter cannot be too fine or filtering will be very slow -- balance between Volume Cleaned and How Clean for best, meaning fastest result -- unless time is not important and extreme cleanliness is].

2. A fleet of skimmers or barges can be fitted quickly with the kind of high-volume fast sucking pumps that are currently used to pump huge volumes of liquid, usually oil, into supertankers.

3. For filters, unless some engineer suggests better alternatives that are both cheap and readily available or can be made in big numbers quickly enough, I suggest the crude and simple, almost costless method of filtration beds used to filter water in water treatment. This consists of a layer of gravel at the top [the bigger-pieces layers at the top and finer-pieces gravel layers at the bottom], then very fine gravel layer, then sand at the bottom layers. Because this entire filter system is coarse, and surface area can be as large as possible unlike a manufactured filter, so the water throughput can be very high and big volumes can be filtered quickly and the cleaned seawater also quickly pumped back into the sea.

4. A quick, cheap and simple way to create a whole string of such coastal filtering facilities is simply to bulldoze a carpark-size rectangular 'hole' in the ground, lay out the Outflow pipings series of pipes that will pump the cleaned seawater from the bottom of this gravel bed filter facility, fill the hole with several different layers of gravel and sand, from the finest sand at the bottom, then coarse sand immediately above this, then fine gravel above that, then medium gravel above this and then coarse gravel at the top -- and you're done and ready to pump the oil-slicked seawaters on top of this gravel bed filter and pump out the reasonably cleaned seawater from the bottom of the gravel bed filter.

5. If you spray the outflow of this cleaned water along the oil-slicked beach waterfront areas, this can help to clean away some of the oil slicks on the shore. You may want to add some chemical/s, like detergents or dispersants to more effectively spray-clean the oil-slicked beachfronts. This flow of cleaned water not only cleans some of the shore-hit oil slicks but help to create a cleaned-water barrier that helps to keep away the real oil slicks heading towards shore. Also, the suction fleet of boats can also patrol along and suck up oil slicks near the beach and thus help to prevent the shore from being dirtied further. Once the gravel bed filter is too dirty to continue effective cleaning, simply shovel away the dirtiest gravel or sand and replace with new layers of gravel and sand -- very cheap.

6. No such skimmers, barges or boats exist at the moment, so some work is needed to identify which boats or barges can be modified to do this. However, it is more work to modify a whole fleet of such boats/barges than a single big one, so an alternative is to separate the sucking function from the filtering function. This is easier and cheaper.

7. This means that the fleet of barges/boats need only concentrate on sucking up the oil slick-seawater mixture, store it in their tanks and sail to shore where the tanks can be pumped/emptied onto a shore facility, which can be a simple huge tank or even a water treatment facility replicated at the coast near the dock where the boats/barges can disgorge their oil slick-seawater mixture. This requires the boats/barges to make endless back and forth trips to collect the oil slicks-seawater mixture. This use of a shore water treatment facility is much easier to put together than trying to filter onboard each boat/barge or even on a big boat/barge since land operations are much easier and cheaper than seabased ones.

8. Since this shore facility can be quickly and cheaply created, you can create a number of such facilities all along THE MOST AFFECTED OR MOST VULNERABLE COASTAL AREAS spacing them out for maximum effect. The reason being that each facility will be pumping back reasonably cleaned seawater into the sea thereby 'pushing' back oil slicks that threaten to spread ashore. Not a big reason but may as well. With continuous pumping of cleaned seawater from a perimeter of coastal facilities, hopefully this cleaned seawater can be a barrier to help prevent the oil slicked waters from reaching shore.

Idea E: 'Stents' to block pipeline leaks

1. If the pipeline leaks are relatively small holes on the relatively big diameter pipeline and not complete breaks in the pipeline, why not try a STENT like the stents used in heart arteries operations?

2. Like in heart arteries operations, you would make and insert a 'stent' somewhere in the pipeline, probably at a cut open section of the pipeline, insert the stent, and push or pull it along the pipeline to the leaking holes. Since the stent would be smaller diameter than the inner pipeline diameter, and providing along the way there are no deformations of the pipeline to stop the stent from being pushed or pulled along the pipeline, the stent [probably a short cylinder of outer diameter slightly smaller than the inner diameter of the pipeline], should greatly reduce the gushing leak and by reducing the leak to a relative trickle, allow other more conventional methods to be used.

3. Another option is to design the stent, not as a short cylinder open at both ends, but with a valve or closing parts at one or both ends so that, once placed in position at the gushing leaks, one or both ends of this cylinder stent can be closed thereby plugging the pipeline completely [if the closing valve/s or flaps expand to reach the entire inner diameter of the pipeline]. However, there may be a small gap between the outer diameter of the stent and the inner diameter of the pipeline thus allowing small leaks, still. Note that once the stent is in place and the valve/s or flaps closed, the pressure of the crude may push away the stent so it will also need probably friction brakes or some other method to prevent the whole stent from being pushed away down the pipeline.

4. This stent method can also be used for the oil well itself, since it is also a pipeline, though vertical but this stent will have to be designed differently to plug the gushing crude and prevent the stent itself from being pushed back up and out of the gushing opening of the oil well. The main advantage of a stent is that initially, it is an open cylinder so easy to push into a pipeline because the crude is still flowing through the stent itself thus offering no resistance, but once in place, the stent valve or flaps can close, thereby stopping the flow of crude, though it needs brakes to prevent itself from being pushed away by the force of the crude.

5. This stent is easily and quickly made. Refinements can include slippery surface on the stent for easier pushing or pulling along the inside of the pipeline or even small rollers, etc. The brakes can include triangular wedges that wedge the stent into place once in place overlapping and blocking the leaking holes. Or flaps that can open outwards to prevent the stent from being pushed away by the force of the crude.

Idea F: 'Umbrella' inserted into oilwell pipe opens to block flow

1. The oilwell head assembly at the seabed surface is capped by a Blowout Preventer with a series of complicated valves. It seems to be working partially so the gushing leak is not at maximum. A Junk Shot operation is planned to inject golf balls, shredded tyres and other rubber or rope bits to plug the leak.

2. As an alternative to the Junk Shot, an 'Umbrella' device can be quickly made and used to plug this leak. This Umbrella is a variation of the Stent. Like an unbrella when opened, it will have a large round surface but when folded, becomes a thin rod-like assembly that can be easily inserted into even small holes in the Blowout Preventer valves.

3. Like an umbrella, our Umbrella will be inserted folded, as a thin rod-like assembly [umbrella 'handle' first], then when it is inside the leaking pipe, open fully thus blocking the entire pipe -- or almost. More than one Umbrella may be used to reduce the leak to a trickle, after which conventional methods may then be used.

Idea G: Air bubble barrier alternative to floating booms

1. Floating booms are one way to prevent oil slicks from reaching shore and sticking to everything. Another way is to use a non-physical barrier, either because booms cannot be made fast enough or in quantities enough, or cheaply enough -- a barrier of air bubbles.

2. You improvise a T-shape hose, either of plumbing metal pipes or preferably, rubber or plastic hose of the cheap household-use variety. The 'horizontal' of the T will be the hose with holes drilled at intervals -- how big the holes and how far apart, a few hours of experiment will determine. Both ends of the T are sealed. In the centre is the 'vertical' T hose, joined to the 'horizontal' T with a simple DIY shop T-joint for such hoses or plumbing pipe. Along this 'vertical' T is pumped the air, from a land-based compressor motor, either operated by normal household electric current or a diesel engine. These compressors can be portable ones either on wheels or on the back of a pickup truck.

3. Thus, the 'horizontal' Ts, when joined in a line and blowing bubbles furiously, will form a bubble barrier that will help prevent floating oil slicks from coming ashore. This line should be as close to the shore as possible so that the compressor can pump air easily and most efficiently.

4. There is no need to lay this barrier line of 'horizontal' T lines at the bottom of the seabed unless there are many small boats needing to cross them to come ashore because this is less efficient and will need greater pumping pressure. Simply tie floats and WEIGHTS [since the air-filled hoses will float] to these 'horizontal' T lines so that each is a few inches below the surface, since this is where the oil slicks float. This is most efficient and needs least pumping from the compressor meaning you can have a longer T line of bubbling bubble barrier per compressor. Small boats needing to cross the line can use a Y-stick to push the T line deep down to cross, after which the T line will float back to position. At night, some lights may be needed to warn small boats of the T line hose, otherwise it may damage propellors. Using rubber or plastic hoses minimise propellor damage.

5. If effective, this barrier is cheap and fast to make using mostly improvised materials.

Idea H: Opening dam/s waters to block slicks approaching

1. There are 29 dams along the Mississippi River holding back and controlling the discharge of water.

2. During those times when human monitors decide that the BP oil slicks are approaching the South Pass entry to the River and its delta or estuary, the nearest upstream dam can open its sluices to discharge more water thereby creating a downward current that will help push back and prevent the oil slicks from entering the South Pass estuary and delta regions.

Idea I: Hot air balloons to trap gushing crude

1. Hot air balloons are easily, cheaply and quickly manufactured to various volumes from 31,000 cubic feet [1-man gondola] to 500,000 cubic feet [20-man gondola].

2. If a single hot air balloon tends to burst from the crude, two or more balloons, one inside the other, can strengthen this improvised 'container', like double-bagging plastic bags in a supermarket.

3. The ideal system is an assembly-type pulley system, roughly rectangular, with 4 large pulleys at each of the 4 corners, the top 2 being on surface ships and the bottom 2 anchored to the seabed, with the gushing oil well in the middle. This continuous-loop system will, like an assembly line, pull the balloon [maybe double-bagged or triple-bagged] down to the seabed, then over the gusher where it will be filled with the gushing crude, then, when quite full, the robot hand pulls a large ring or plate to pull shut the attached drawstring, thus sealing the opening of the balloon with the crude now trapped inside, before the balloon is pulled to the surface where it is either removed or have its crude pumped into a barge or ship tank before going down for another collection trip cycle.

4. For easier filling of crude over the gusher 5,000 feet below the surface, by robotic hands, each balloon can be fitted with a short cylindrical pipe at its opening to easily direct the flow of crude from the gusher into the balloon. Or it may be an inverted funnel instead of a cylindrical pipe. The drawstring to pull shut the balloon opening will be above this funnel or pipe, also pre-installed. Once pulled tight, the drawstring cannot slip loose. For easier grabbing and pulling by the robotic hands, the drawstring should terminate in a big ring or plate which the robotic hands can easily grab and pull.

5. To ensure that these huge, ungainly balloons are not whipped around by swirling currents and eddies, especially when filling up with crude over the gusher, pre-attach floats at its top so it always stays 'right side up'. You may also want to attach a radio transmitter in case the filled balloon is lost at sea either on the surface or seabed. The balloon material is ultra-light and the crude is lighter than water and even more so, seawater, so the whole balloon filled with crude, will slowly float upwards. The inevitable gases found with crude also ensure buoyant balloons.

Idea J: Removing creatures from beachfronts before oilslicks arrive

1. It is very difficult to save or clean birds and animals after they are coated with oil so a better way is to drive them away, scare them away, lure them away or physically trap and remove them from the beach areas BEFORE the oil slicks arrive.

2. Loud gun shots can scare some creatures away but annoy humans and disturb babies. Similarly, loud sirens-type wailing devices can be quickly and cheaply set up. Trained eagles or falcons, hunting dogs on leashes, etc, can also scare away some creatures. So can bright, flashing lights and threatening sounds especially recordings of predators. Or sudden and threatening movements like 'scarecrows' type of devices. Bird and animal nests can be removed far away. Creatures can be hunted or trapped and removed.

3. These methods can also be used for sea animals, though harder. If small boats or submarines are available, they can also project sounds [sound travels better in water than air, actually] of enough loudness, pitch or frequencies that these drive away whales, seals, dolphins, porpoises, sealions, maybe even fishes. Of course, these submarines will have to patrol and travel in front of the oil slicks to drive marine animals before them, away from the oil slicks.

4. For crabs, etc, remove or destroy their food chain or supply but replace these some distance away so they follow the food. You may have to repeat this operation many times to move them far enough away. Luring creatures away with food can also be done with birds, mammals and even sea creatures.

Note: All these ideas are improvisional and can be much improved, for future such disasters, if the materials and procedures can be made and perfected beforehand, ready for use.