Fast Company

Your Ideas for Stopping and Cleaning Up the BP Gulf Oil Disaster

Gulf oil spill

BP can use all the help it can get in cleaning up the ever-growing Gulf oil spill--even with minor successes this weekend, the oil giant still lacks an immediate solution to stopping the flow of oil altogether. That's why it makes sense to harness the power of the Internet and collect as many ideas as possible from, well, everyone. The UK Guardian did just that earlier today, with exciting results. Below, a selection of promising ideas from the Guardian's solicitation for help.

  • Dr. Philip Johnson, the founder of the Construction Engineering Program at the University of Alabama, suggests that BP use a common oil industry practice known as "gas lift" to stanch the flow of oil by injecting gas into a deep point on the pipe. Johnson explains: "The gas lightens the fluid in the pipe and carries it upward. It works at depths far greater than these, and in this case the gas could be air from large surface compressors. If BP can slip a smaller pipe (say 18 inches or so to make it easy) into the open end of the leak and gas lift it, it will collect the bulk of the oil. The lifting process will even pull the introduced pipe firmly into the open end."
  • Geologist Perry Hubbard suggests that that BP weld a new pipe with a large cross-sectional area onto a line upstream of the leaks. "The pipe should be threaded on the distal end and several shutoff valves will subsequently be attached to the pipe using the thread. Once this has been completed perforate the leaking line and allow the oil and natural gas to escape through the recently attached pipe. This will reduce the outflow pressure at the leaks and make it easier to effect repairs or attach other controls. Once the new controls are in place at the leaks, close the valves on the recently attached pipe."
  • Dr. Rich Pryor, a physicist and former senior policy analyst in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, thinks a few good explosions could do the trick. He explains, "Drill several small holes around the pipe that is leaking. Place explosives in the holes. Set off the explosives at the same time. The shock wave will pinch the pipe closed. Some analysis would need to be done to determine the position and amount of explosive needed. The analysis could be done at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM."
  • Biochemist Walter Vaughan offers up another explosive solution: "This stuff is flammable, so why not pump air or oxygen to the leak site and burn it. I know its sounds crazy but burn it underwater. You could inject oxygen into the pipe before the oil exits and create a giant acytelene like torch."
  • Student Richard Van Neste offers BP (and other oil companies) a suggestion to mitigate the impact of future offshore spills. "My idea comes from the use of booms along the coasts to be protected from spills. They appear to have limited use in choppy seas where the oil presumably floats under the 'bumpy boom'. Oil companies must spend vast sums of money on the clean up and fines so why not spend money on this...a floating pontoon that rests above and below the surface of the sea and surrounds oil rigs. When a spill inevitably occurs the spill, or majority of it, would be contained within the immediate area."

FastCompany.com readers have also offered up a few suggestions :

  • Bill Makari suggests a solution to the problem of ice forming inside BP's underwater dome: "There are two sources of solution to the ice forming problem. 1: We could introduce a cover in the bottom of the cofferdam. 2: The bottom cover is made of segments that can be opened near the bottom (When the cofferdam reaches near to the spilling broken pipe). 3: We could also introduce a [heater] near the bottom of the cofferdam. The bottom should act as a segmented multi-control valves"
  • Karl Baldwin has another use for the massive dome: "Why not use the 98-ton Cofferdam rig to crush the end of the leaking pipe shut. Then raise it and relower it over the other leak and start sucking."

Have a better idea? Let us know in the comments.

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131 Comments

  • hailey emch

    Couldn't we try oil skimming I did some reserch just now and if we did it right we might be able to clean it up a little faster

  • Half2Care

    I hope someone who really knows if this is possible will read my proposed idea for this cleanup.And get the important people who can see if this is possible,and talk it over if it already has not been.
    Recently I viewed the new International shipping port in the Netherlands, Rotterdam's I believe it was,Which reclaim sand from the sea bottom and relocate it to use in construction,by use of an amazingly powerful ship, designed to suck up huge amounts of sand,and water from the ocean bed. The water in the process is unwanted and must flow out of the holding tank of sand as the heavier sand sinks,and there left w/ dry sand to take to a location to "shoot" out the sand for lack of a better term,to build more docks,etc.
    The obvious question I want to propose is can this type of ship,and aparatis be used to "suck" the oil from the gulfs surface/bottom/etc. A group of these ships working w/ the already in use spotting planes,and smaller boats that are finding and rounding up oil to burn in small surface areas,it seems at least could be sucked up by this machine,and disposed of elseware. In addition this ships holding area works to the natural advantages that oil and water naturally separate.The poisons"dispersants" that are being unprecidently sprayed by the thousands of gallons over the gulf have had ZERO studies done to see possible impacts of these actions. This gulf stream is the Worlds regulator of temp. who knows what we are possibly causing.

  • Rhonda karpovich

    We can't cap it, WHy not use a large dryer hose type and pump that oil to a holding tank, boats?

  • Dale Corzine

    I'm not an expert on hydraulic flow and pressure, but it seems part of the problem is that shutting off the flow at the top could cause the pipe below to rupture. One way that might avoid this is to first clamp a funnel around the pipe's opening to make it easier to insert a plug and eventual cap. The funnel could be made of 2 halves that bolt together so it could be installed from the side. The plug would start with a single section of solid metal pipe being inserted. After a certain number of feet, a second pipe would be strapped to the first and continue to be lowered with additional pipes being added at intervals gradually closing off the flow. Once the flow is reduced enough, a cap at the top of it all would fit into the funnel to complete the seal. I'm not sure, but it seems like this could avoid the build up of pressure that you get when you crimp a garden hose at a single point.

  • Stu

    I thought of the same idea. It is actually using the pressure of the well to help close off the well. By using a thick rubber bladder, with an outer lining of kevlar for protection against sharp edges, being inserted through the pipe all the way to the inside of the well and then being inflated, the pressure of the well would provide a seal by pressing the balloon to the bottom of the pipe. It falls under the same principle of trying to suck an ice cube through a straw, except that you are using the natural pressure from the well to push up on the balloon to seal the pipe.

    An idea like this could not only stop the flow of oil, but it would help you save the well.

  • bandar arabi

    ACTUALLY I DONT KNOW FROM WHERE SHOULD I START BUT I WILL GIVE YOU A SIMPLE SELUTION THAT I THINK WILL HELP STOPPING THE LEAK.

    First of all you have to install a high pressure ballon inside the pipe it selt and then push it to 10-20 meter after that fill it with air and make sure the pressure inside the ballon is greater than the oil pressure.

    When the leak stops you can now disconnect the broken flange and instal a gate valve with a blind to make sure it is full isolated after that you can fabricate a lines to direct the oil for farther processing.

    Regarding to the ballon it should be connected to a flexable high pressure hose with a valve so ones the gate valve installed relese the pressure in the ballon and then the ballon well flows out of the line by the oil pressure, ones the ballon is out of the pipe just close the valve the instale the blind.

    Team work will help to improve this idea.

    Best Regards,

  • Loretta Holtman

    I think the problem is very easy to fix, if one uses inspiration from God's design, ala Leonardo. It could be fixed using a metal "net" structure:

    The problem is like a human blood vessel or artery that has been nicked, and could be solved with the same process nature uses. It will be nearly impossible to put a SOLID piece over a gushing pipe, but nature puts a net first, so that resistance against the flow is minimal, then keeps cross-linking the net with links smaller and smaller, then has the "holes" plugged internally with objects too large to go through the holes (blood cells), which pile up behind the net, and can't be blasted outward, as they are too large to go through the net.

    Essentially, all one needs is to attach a chain deep to an outcropping on the pipe, or begin by soldering three links to the external area of the pipe well below the gushing end, where visibility is higher.

    Next, linear chains are attached (parallel to the pipe) that stretch over the pipe.
    These chains can then be cross-linked with more screw-closed or spring-closed links until pore size is less than a foot across.

    Last, material or objects are inserted through one open pore in the metal "net" so that it starts to internally clog the ending. The oil will quickly stop gushing.

    A permanent cap can now be affixed over the gushing end.

  • Keith Utterson

    Slide a thin probe into the well head with cooling caperbilities. Pass fresh water into the blow out valve at the well head. Cooling the oil should decrease its flow then once the fresh water freezes in the well head, the flow should stop. Not forgetting to maintain a temperature that would not weaken any of the exsisting pipework and make it britol. Maintaining the refridgeration would give time to design a product to recap the damaged valve.

  • Bradley R. Paulson

    A very basic and simple idea. Use lead balls of various sizes, starting with the largest and reducing the size as applicable, as the leak slows. You could use the "top hat system" to "funnel" the lead balls into the pipe. You would start with the larger balls, which would eventually begin to obstruct the opening and reduce the flow. Each time the flow is reduced to a sufficient level, the size of the lead balls would be reduced, thus filling in the "gaps". By repeating the process over and over, with smaller and smaller balls, the leak would eventually be stopped completely. The reason for using lead: There would be minimal (almost zero) compression of the media caused by the extreme depths. There is no chance of creating an electrical arc, thereby eliminating any possibility of an explosion. The lead is extremely heavy, and would be minimally affected by the pressure of the oil and natural gas escaping the well, thereby making it possible to create a "plug". Anyway, that is my idea. Rather basic but possibly effective.

  • Chris DuCharme

    I have some ways to collect and control the oil leak, Comment to me if you want to fix it.

  • Chris DuCharme

    Hi everybody. This is Chris speaking on the gulf oil spill. I have about 10 different ideas about how to fix this break. I'm a thinker on these types of near impossible tasks that life hands us. I'll let you see how one of my ideas would be effective, and were not talking about absorbing the oil. I want to show them personally how to trap, cap, tap, and oh yeh, dredge. Sorry that happened to those workers. LOVE & R.I.P. to them in heaven.
    So lets get started. Remember this is just one possibility. First lets take some smaller diameter pvc pipes and guide them in section at a time. They need to be supported by thick cables at the top, and at the bottom by whatever is solid. You need to avoid any spark whatsoever on anything I decide to use for safety. We don't want another explosion. Plastic pulleys need to be in place at six even points away from the opening. Remember top and bottom of every 30' section. By having pilons or whatever you use, we can make four metal towers that will be used to insert the piping while still letting the oil flow through. Still keeping the tension on all of the cables as the pipes slide down. The pressure is so intense it's hard to believe. Keep the sections flowing together one by one, through the critical rupture zone.
    Take this all the way down to the resevoir and all the way to the surface where it can be collected, or whereever you want to stop. I would stop whereever the water is at a safe spot to work on due to the pressure. Collect the oil and gas there. If this thing exploded in the middle or at the top, pipe or no pipe. I don't like hearing, it can't be done. It can, and I would love to help work on any way of figuring out how, and I won't stop, and get paid for it. This is just the beginning americans. Please come to me for any advice or help on Ideas for you or the "Big Wigs" , so we can stop the worst leak ever. Write back. By the way I think and do, lets stop it with my ways. I'll figure it out for you guys and keep in touch on the internet. I've been to college and my minor in mechanical engineering never got finished. Did gas turbines in the Navy, two years. I want to help. If you don't like how I do it don't reply. My feelings won't get hurt.

  • rod dirt

    I think quatining it.They know exactally how deep and width of the main pipe that's leaking is ,surround the whole area around the leaking pipe with a huge quatine tank that touches the bottom of the ocean floor to the most scientific guest in hieght and width to have enough time to start the suction and seperation process.This way you gained back controll of the free flowing oil from mixing in with the rest of the ocean .Example,the container start from the floor of the ocean to about 80 ft above water level maybe 100ft wide but i think the best way to know what size you need would be determine by the barrels of oil ,per hour that is loss and how quictk the suction process would take to keep the container at less half full. The clean up can keeep progessing while the oil is now under contoll.

  • Matt Schalk

    I think a very large tube or barrel (20 ft in diameter and about 30 ft tall) could be lowered over the main leak (centered). One solid tube, possibly with 1ft diameter holes up the side (top to bottom and spaced far apart). Cement or some other substance could be filled in the tube, along the sides and around the leak about 7 to 10 feet up the tube. At this point the oil is still flowing. Large heavy disks (maybe 17 or 18 feet in diameter and possibly 2 feet thick) would be lowered into the tube. The relief holes would channel the oil out the sides until the necessary number of disks are staked over the leak to hold back the pressure.

  • joel vannorsdel

    I know this sound kind of simplistic. But since the well is really never going to produce oil, why don't they just put a few pounds of C-4 explosive 1000 feet into the well and set it off to seal the well like they have happen in mines.

  • Keith Connell

    My thought for helping in the cleanup around the beaches, is to take the containment booms that have the oil just going over them, and installing a suction system connected to them to suck the oil up instead of trying to keep it contained in the gulf.These booms can have a pipe installed in them with holes drilled every 50 ft or so, and connect that to a collecting ship and use a water seperater then that cleaned water can be to released back out in the gulf. .If this had been done weeks ago than the man hrs could have been lowered and their would not be the threat of oil on the coast.

  • Paul Morgal

    My suggestion is for collecting the oil plumes, which I see as clouds, of oil floating below the surface of the Gulf waters. Listening to the news researchers seem to know where the plumes are or can detect them. If a large tanker ship were positioned over a plume and a vacuum hose lowered into the plume the oil could be sucked up and the sea water separated with the oil being retained. This method could be implemented in plume that are in the Gulf waters and plumes that could possible enter the gulf stream waters that travel north along the east coast of the US. a vacuum system could also be positioned directly over the well itself to collect oil that misses the collection device over the well head. I realize this could be a small amount of the oil that is being released or has been released but if enough ol is reclaimed it could reduce the effect on the gulf shores in future years.

    Paul Morgal

  • Richard Thompson

    I think they should conform the tower with 17 jet engines, pointing straight up to the sky at the surface of the ocean, joined to the tower with beams, pipes are whatever the engineers think is necessary. Give the jets engines sufficient fuel to the hold the tower down to join it, weld or whatever they have to do to seal it over the well head.

  • Elizabeth DeArmoun

    I think that we should use a Freeze option. We need to use dry ice or Freeze the well head. Just like in the kitchen. We don't put oil down a sink as it gets cold and clogs the sink. When we have it so slow we cap it off. I know being from Alaska we could turn that well into a glacier cooling temps and stop the nonsense.
    Please look into this method. If applies by trained HAZMAT technicians it would save this region.
    Elizabeth DeArmoun