BP's Cofferdam Container Failed, How Will They Stop the Gulf Oil Spill Now?

Having already spent $350 million on containment efforts, BP is looking for new ways to stop the Gulf oil spill—including the junk shot: pumping rubber trash down the hole to plug the leak.

BP containment dome

The oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico continues unabated, with at least 5,000 barrels of oil each day gushing into the ocean. The containment efforts have failed miserably so far, and the newest ideas are questionable at best. So far, BP has spent $350 million on containment efforts, immediate emergency response, and settlements. Below, we take a look at what BP has already tried and what the oil company is planning over the coming weeks.

Already Tried

Underwater robots were the first line of defense against the April 22 leak. These remote-controlled robots attempted to close valves and stop the leak at the well with no success. BP officially gave up on this tactic last week.

BP's most promising idea was its Cofferdam Operation, a 98-ton steel and concrete containment chamber lowered on top of the damaged pipe that connected the drilling rig to the oil well. The chamber took two weeks to build. In theory, the 40-foot-tall chamber was supposed to capture oil and allow it to flow through a pipe to a barge on the surface. But the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group reported on Saturday that the operation failed—ice crystals formed inside the container, clogging the pipe that was supposed to bring oil to the barge.

Next Up

BP still hasn't given up on the containment chamber idea. The company is considering lowering a smaller containment dome (aka a Top Hat) on top of the spill—the idea being that a smaller dome would be less susceptible to clogging from ice. That could be ready to go as early as tomorrow.

Another controversial idea is the junk shot, which involves rubber trash pumped down the pipe to plug the leak. The plugged leak would then be cemented shut.

Remaining Options

If that doesn't work, BP is also thinking about cutting the riser pipe that extends from the well and using larger piping to send the oil to a drill ship on the ocean's surface. But that will greatly increase the flow of oil—a frightening prospect if the tactic fails.

BP and Transocean have been drilling a relief well for nearly a week. The well—thought to be the only surefire way to plug the leak—will interrupt the existing well and seal it shut. The relief well will likely take three months to drill. So while it may be safe and reliable, we don't have time to wait for it to work.

So—does anyone out there have any ideas? They can't possibly be worse than what BP has planned.

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3 Comments

  • Michael Landers

    I'm surprised that BP isn't interested or really looking for external ideas to solve this problem. There should be a web-site so that people with intelligent ideas are introduced and screened for viability. I am an entering senior in the civil engineering program at Georgia Institute of Technology and have worked as a contractor in the Petro-Chemical environment for 7 Years prior to returning to school. This is to show my idea is not without merit or without exposure to the industry. If a Steel pipe sufficiently large in sized such that the differential pressure across the pipe-wall that was within yield strength of the pipe material/geometry was lowered to the well head. By controlling both the size of pipe and in this also the ratio of oil to water entering the system the yield strength and the differential hydrostatic pressure inside and outside the pipe would be a function of the difference in the areas) This would create a reduction in the differential pressure or a differential gradient as the fluid rises in the pipe across the pipe-wall. At a certain height the Pipe should go through an expansion to slow the rise of fluid. [V in expansion =Velocity entering (Entering area/Expanded area)] and fluid should be introduced to centrifugal stirring such that the heavier Salt Water moves to the outside and can go through a series of purge points that are hydrostatically operated. The pressure inside as a function of the density of the outer fluid wall and the motion has to be greater than the hydrostatic pressure outside. If there was to great of a ratio of petroleum in the outer shell of water and the angular momentum was set for the optimum rotation so that it would only impart separation and a certain level of force such that evacuation of oil was improbable, the lighter oil would stay closer to center and then move up the pipe due to its lighter state. (It is also important to note that at this point the ratio of mix changes considerably so the riser pipe should be able to handle the change in differential pressure across the wall and this should be done closer to the surface to minimize the difference.] Only the water would evacuate itself from the system in the expansion and this could be monitored with remote hydrocarbon meters. This outer wall could possibly be done with a semi-permeable membrane too or semi-permeable membrane points of evacuations that are installed like windows in a submarine, if the pressure difference were low enough and this too was done at a lower depth. If this were created in modular fashion then lengths of the lower section could be added or detracted for other occurrences and for optimization of expansion location. Anyway at the end of the pipe the flow would be mostly if not all Crude and could be shipped out at that point.

  • Michael Landers

    I'm surprised that BP isn't interested or really looking for external ideas to solve this problem. There should be a web-site so that people with inteligent ideas are introduced and screaned for viability. I am an entering senior in the civil engineering program at Georgia Institute of Technology and have worked as a contractor in the Petro-Chemical environment for 7 Years prior to returning to school. This is to show my idea is not without merit or without exposure to the industry. If a Steel pipe sufficiently large in sized such that the differential pressure across the pipe-wall that was within yield streigth of the pipe material/geometry was lowered to the well head. Bby controlling both the size of pipe and in this also the ratio of oil to water entering the system the yield strength and the differential hydrostatic pressure inside and outside the pipe would be a funtion of the difference in the areas) This would create a reduction in the differential pressure or a differential gradient as the fluid rises in the pipe accross the pipe-wall. and at a cirtian height the Pipe should go through an expansion to slow the rise of fluid. [V in expansion =Velocity entering (Entering area/Expanded area)] and fluid should be introduced to centrifugal stiring such that the heavier Salt Water moves to the outside and can go through a series of purge points that are hydrostatically operated. The pressure inside as a funtion of the density of the outer fluid wall and the motion has to be greater than the hydrostatic pressure outside. If there was to great of a ratio of petrolium in the outer shell of water and the angular momentum was set for the optimum rotation so that it would only impart separation and a certian level of force such that evacuation of oil was improbible, the lighter oil would stay closer to center and then move up the pipe due to it's lighter state. (It is also important to note that at this point the ratio of mix changes considerably so the riser pipe should be able to handle the change in differential pressure accross the wall and this should be done closer to the surface to minimize the difference.] Only the water would evacuate itself from the system in the expansion and this could be monitored with remote hydrocarbom meters. This outer wall could posibly be done with a semi-permiable membrane too or semi-permiable membrane points of evacuation that are installed like windows in a submarine, if the pressure difference were low enough and this too was done at a lower depth. If this were created in modular fashon then lengths of the lower section could be added or detracted for other occurences and for optimization of expansion location. Anyway at the end of the pipe the flow would be mostly if not all Crude and could be shiped out at that point.

  • Adriana Arenas

    Make a ring or frame much bigger than the well, through weight or anchors sink it and fix it to the sea floor (an expert should know). Attach to the frame a same dimeter -size oil resistant huge plastic bag, something very loose. This huge plastic bag should become a funnel which would end in a hose which would then connect to the tank ship. The success of this idea depends on the loose nature of the structure, some expert in materials should know which plastic or fabric to use. Maybe the hose is somewhere within the diameter and the closing of the of "huge plastic" to create can be done with power boats going in circles if this work then make a proper connector. I think the solution works for collecting the oil not for stopping the flow.
    As a provisional solution multiple (???) dredges can be placed by the well and pump oil/water to tank ships but maybe multiple are too many.
    Let me know if it works. Warmly Adriana Arenas