Fast Company

James Cameron Wants to Stop BP's Oil Disaster, Can Our Readers Do Better?

Gulf oil spill

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf gets more depressing by the day. BP's latest attempt to slow the spill with a containment dome isn't going so well, Florida officials tell us that oil could reach state beaches by Thursday, and at least one energy investment firm isn't counting out the possibility that the well could keep on leaking until Christmas--or for the next decade. Even nuking the spill isn't out of the question, according to NG Oil and Gas (method pictured above). Things have gotten so desperate that Avatar director James Cameron is now consulting with U.S. officials on possible solutions to the spill. Can FastCompany.com readers do better? We've received a number of creative ideas in recent days. Below, some of our favorites.

  • Dan Bailey suggests placing a large diameter pipe over the leak, attaching a flex hose (pipe or sheathing) to tankers, and putting booms or a containment structure around the top opening of the hose. Underwater robots could attach the lower end of the containment device to the one-mile-long flex hose with clamps or other means. Bailey believes that there will be no pressure to deal with as long as there are no restrictions in flex line and the diameter is large enough. He explains, "Oil will be guided up to the surface for scavenging by the tankers. Booms or containment will reduce spillage at the top."
  • Similarly, Joseph Pearson suggests simulating a blocked artery by inserting a 100-foot steel pipe into the leak that is the same circumference as the leak on one end and narrowed on the other end. The interior of the pipe could be coated with a rubber-like material that can break free and clog the pipe as it rises toward the narrow exit. Pearson also offers this jab at the Titanic director: "Say hey to James Cameron for me and ask him why he didn't come up with this."
  • Matthew Chase Daniel offers up this suggestion: "Build a special pipe/plug into the well. This would be a pipe with a smaller diameter than the existing pipe, allowing the oil to flow around it while being inserted. Than there is a system to inflate/expand the exterior wall of this pipe (like a bicycle tire). This inflation seals the pipe to the walls of the existing well pipe. Now the oil flows only in the interior pipe and can be collected." The New York Post points to a similar solution from Alia Sabur, who suggests surrounding a pipe with deflated car tires, inserting the pipe into the broken riser, and inflating the wheels to make a seal. BP, are you listening?

Want to read about some of the other creative solutions proposed by our readers? Check them out here, here, and here. And please email us or post more ideas in the comments--we'd love to hear from you!

 Read more about the Gulf Oil Spill

Got information on the spill you want to share? Email us at oil@fastcompany.com. It'll go directly to the lead reporter and editor on these stories, and they'll assume all initial communication to be strictly confidential.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email

Add New Comment

22 Comments

  • william Porter

    Stopping the oil is not required at this time. Run large casing down around the leak, 4 ft diameter should be large enough to get around it but go larger if nessisary. Bottle neck the casing to 18 inches running up to the rig. This will allow the oil to flow to the rig and the problem is no longer 5000 ft under the water. Hammer the casing down so there is no bleed off below. Slumber Jay and Halliburton can deal with the problem of choking the well off on the rig. The dome method can not work, the pressure is to great for the pencil thin out let tubing they are using. We need to get out there and get control of this leak, this isn't BP's problem. IT IS OURS, we can not stand by and let this go on. It seems to me, knowing that this leak should have been cased in and handled on the rig long ago, that this is intentionally being done. Coming up with new ideas that any engineer know's can not possibly work, then more excuses to continue this leak has gone on long enough. They aren't talking about stopping the leak now, it's all about slowing it down rather than stopping it. AM I THE ONLY ONE THAT HEARS THIS? We need to get out there and get control of this leak and stop it from doing any more damage. The Eco system is ours and the economy is ours, Let's get together and get these jokers out of there and fix this NOW

  • David Wallerstedt

    Stainless steel tube plug pointed on down hole side approximately 1/2 diameter of hole. Wall thickness as required to expand (stretch) to twice the diameter of the hole. Fill with shape explosive to provide maximum expansion. upon explosive ignition. Barbs on the outside of the tube to anchor in the drill hole. Force down into well approximately 200 feet depth with steel threaded rod heavy duty electric leads to ignite expolsive connected to atainless steel plug and fed into hole. gas relief rilot holes in sealed top cap of plug. When plug is at correct depth ignite shape charge and steel plug will expandinto drill hole. Unit should be place at a hard rock strata.
    Dave Wallerstedt Abq.,NM

  • Bryan Glenn Huber

    Stop the oil spill using 40 year old "Hot Tap" techniques previously used in the Gulf to tap into submerged pipelines to add additional oil feeders without shutting off the flow, but with a slight difference. Bolt on flanged clamshell with attached "T" connector pipe to any portion of the riser with a few feet to work with. Stitch weld clamshell as security. Bolt on drill and drill through connector pipe and into riser. Remove drill. Connector pipe and 20 inch hole should have a slight vacuum due to the effect of eduction. Bolt on valve body to connector pipe. Mechanically operate or hydraulically ram the valve slowly into the riser flow until it is choked then killed. If it is determined the pressure is too great, a conventional "Hot Tap" lower on the riser can be installed as a relief, and as a means to pipe or flex hose oil to a surface tanker.

  • William

    Wow, there seems to be more ideas here than BP has been able to come up with in more than a month. Thanks by the way, I'm headed to FL later this month... guess we'll be skipping the beach.

  • Benjamin Grynol

    Hello Fast Company,

    I wanted to take the time to share with you an email regarding a solution to potentially fix the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, which I recently sent to Tony Hayward of BP, and the Obama Administration. As well, I sent this letter to one of the Winnipeg radio stations, (in Canada, where I live), a few days ago, and they read the letter on the air this morning.

    Although this solution is based around chemistry and physics, (essentially Newton’s Law, and the principles of viscosity), which is not my formal educational background, I wanted to share this solution with you because I believe that it is based around the principles of design thinking, more specifically the “vuja de” theory. I am not a scientist, I am not an engineer, but I am a design thinker. Rather than look for technical solutions in a boardroom setting, I realized that there must be a simple, cost effective solution to fix this catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. By looking at the problem as an opportunity, I came up with the solution below. Please read through it if you have some time.

    Take care,
    Ben


    Benjamin Grynol
    Founding Partner
    i3 innovation
    www.i3three.com


    ----------------

    Hello Mr. Hayward, I believe that I may have a potential solution to stop the BP oil leak. I have done some experimenting, and believe that my solution may work. The only downside to my solution, is that the experimenting I have done has only occurred on a small scale.

    The best way to stop the oil leak is not to plug the hole. Rather, it is better to change the viscosity of the oil, where the oil becomes so viscous that it cannot flow out of the pipeline. Since oil usually separates from most agents, there are very few agents which can be mixed with it. With that said, I have found that mixing cornstarch and motor oil in approximately a 3-2 cornstarch to oil ratio, creates a substance so heavy and thick that it cannot flow. If enough cornstarch is pumped down the pipeline at a high pressure, I believe that the it will create a negative back pressure within the pipe, where the mixed substance will be too heavy for the residual oil in the pipe to flow through. Once complete, a solid galvanized steel cap could be retro-fitted and screwed on top of the existing pipeline. Since there won't be a great deal of pressure pushing up on the cap, it won't allow the oil to burst the cap off of the pipeline in the future.

    I realize that this solution may sound too simple, but there are some positive aspects to it:

    1) The United States' highest volume crop commodity that is produced is corn.

    2) Cornstarch is a cost-effective, and "green solution". If it doesn't work, then it won't do any further damage to the surrounding environment.

    In addition to cornstarch, other materials such as "arrow root starch" or "tapioca starch" may work better than cornstarch, because they can maintain the thick viscosity of oil at lower temperature. Since the pipeline is very deep in the ocean, I realize that cooler temperatures in the ocean create further challenges to try and stop the oil leak. When cornstarch is mixed with oil at a cooler temperature, it can lose the viscosity of the oil and become clumpy. Arrow root starch and tapioca starch on the other hand, can maintain the oil's high viscosity and density at those cooler temperatures.

    Hopefully this information is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.


    Sincerely,
    Benjamin Grynol

    Benjamin Grynol
    Founding Partner
    i3 innovation
    www.i3three.com

  • SJ Green

    Under water flash burn at the leak opening with arc-oxygen electrode or high pressure oxyacetylene torch would significantly reduce surface oil.

    It is an old concept based on underwater torches that cut metal: oxyacetylene torch and arc-oxygen electrode would burn-off the oil and methane gas at the point of exit, reducing the thick oil to a biodegradable hydrocarbon ash byproduct that the oceans can assimilate.

    Because of the mixture of oil and gas being released, this will actually facilitate the underwater burn more efficiently. Typically, for underwater torches to work, both a combustible substance and an oxidizer -- which will be partially enhanced with the oil-gaseous mix from the exiting plum -- must be supplied by hoses leading down to the torch.

    Here, 3-4 torches would be placed a few inches above the oil-gas exit and within the plume itself, thereby, allowing some, albeit minimal, oxygenation and pressure to occur displacing the water water. Under high pressure from the surface ships, the combustible gas -- either hydrogen or acetylene -- would be combined with oxygen gas to produce an underwater flame at the tip of the torch that would inserted into the oil-gas plume exiting the leak.

    Alternatively, use a arc-oxygen electrode, which heats up, electrically, to >8000° F. Again, high pressure oxygen jet is also introduced into the site which would interface the exiting oil-gas plume from the leak with a metal plate held in place within the plume thereby completing the arc.

    Typically, these approaches only work to certain depth, however, introducing adequate oxyacetylene even in small high pressure bubble for a millisecond at the interface or inside of the oil-gas plum at the leak will likely be adequate to flash burn the oil and radically reducing the surface oil devastation.

    This will not plug the hole but a continuous flash burn at the oil-gas leak will prevent oil from reaching the surface, while various plugs are being developed. It can be implemented immediately at a very low cost and turned-on and off between attempts to actually plug it.

    It is worth a try. A simple acetylene torch, albeit modified might be all it takes to reduce the thick oil flow until we physcially cap it... and it is nuclear-free.

  • Diyana Hrzic

    A colleague's son recommended this morning "promoting the Apple iTunes model (multiple small transactions for high overall impact) for collecting spilled oil from the Louisiana coastline and marshes. Offer to pay for the barrels of oil people bring in from "oil hunting". Send the masses out in boats and offer to pay them market rate for all the oil that has been reclaimed. This will allow the average person to 1) generate income 2) help the environment. The crude oil is worth ~ $71 a barrel and it's stuck in place just waiting for someone to come along and suck it up. Let the masses get in the game and come up with their own improvized solutions for oil collection. The state could even sell barrels/booms/skimmers as a revenue generator. This solution minimizes the cost to the state, gets people involved (jobs?)..." He went on with some calculations that really made sense.

  • Pat Howard

    BP needs to stop and think out of the box. Dam builders deal with the exact same problem that BP is facing. Why not use the same principles that engineers building dams use? They have the pressure of the river to stop. They do it slowly. Pouring a bunch of stuff in a river will not stop it, just as BP could not stop the oil by doing the same. Dam engineers build from both sides toward the middle. They have an closeable outlet build into the dam as they are building it. When they get near finished, the pressure in the last section is huge. They open the outlet they previously built to relieve the pressure while they finish the final and most difficult closing. Then they close the premade outlet. When done, the dam is complete. Get a dam building engineer on site. That will solve your problem.

  • Joao Martins

    I'm not sure about what's going on down there, it would help to have a realistic diagram about what's down there etc. But if there is that much pressure of the oil coming out, wouldn't it be possible to dig a new well to relieve that pressure and then do something about the broken "pipe"? Or to use a device with a similar behaviour to a urinary catheter (haha) and control the spill some other way round?

  • Chris Reich

    I think BP has enough ideas to fix the problem. It's just not as easy as most of us think to do anything under a mile of water.

    However, the idea of even letting BP continue to run the effort is insane. Because they are experts at extracting oil doesn't make them experts at fixing a problem like this. The Obama administration is using completely faulty reasoning. BP should be taking orders from OUR top engineers and experts. The problem with having BP making the decisions is that cost and fear of further liability is always governing every decision.

    Look, if a logger starts a forest fire, do we have the logging company put it out because they are "tree experts"? No, we bring in fire fighters, put out the fire and then hold the appropriate parties accountable.

    We need the best minds from MIT, our top research labs, Bechtel, etc. to be running a Manhattan type project to get this done. The damage is already irreparable. It's a matter of how wide the damage will spread.

    I'm not ready to accept the permanent destruction of the Everglades, are you?

    And then there is this idea:

    http://apps.teachu.com/blog/te...

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Clabber Grrl

    Take the top 10 or 15 executives from BP and put them on a reality show like that Donald Trump show. Follow them around with a camera and record their efforts.

    At the end of each week, if the problem isn't fixed yet, have the audience vote, and whoever loses is put to death.

    It's called "BP Survivor".

  • Ryan Lober

    I think BP is on the right track with this most recent effort to cut and cap but like their folly with the first attempt at this, they are relying on a cap that is too small to place easily, and too big to provide a tight seal around the riser. First, they need to attach the equivalent of an inverted cone to the base of the structure, which could be sent down in two halves and assembled at depth, creating a tight seal around the base of the well head while working around the high pressure jet of oil, and providing a larger working area. This would enable the use of a much larger cap which would require less stringent tolerances during fitting and could be welded to the cone creating a much more effective containment vessel.

    On a different note... the 'nuking the well' plan sounds like it came directly from the lips of Michael Bay, (the greatest visionary of our time) but its not the most outlandish idea I've heard, although I would replace the nuke with a high explosive traditional payload, the main problem however is that drilling the hole would take too long. The thing I really don't understand is why BP hasn't consulted with Bruce Willis yet, it's like they have never even seen Armageddon.

  • Karen Lea Aasand

    In earlier comment I mentioned Canadian peat moss - according to Dennis Howard, President of the Movement for a Better America. "Canadian peat moss which has the capacity to absorb 8 times its weight in oil. Canada has millions of acres of it. It will absorb 8 times its weight in oil within 5 minutes, leaving clear water below and a mass of oily peat moss on top. It can easily be applied by agricultural aircraft and scooped up or skimmed by boats and barges."

  • John Coonen

    Love the idea of a big, wide temporary pipe or wide hose for a temporary containment; then float another oil rig over there to re-establish a controlled pipeline either using the same shaft, or one nearby. Use the military to get that sucker done asap.

  • ianschopa

    BP, are you listening?

    No, they are not. I was listening to a show last week on NPR on the BP mega-disaster, and the same question was raised. It was also explained that hundreds of scientists and engineers have approached BP with plans to stop the leak, but since the solutions haven't been tested (partly because theres little funding because oil spills are so infrequent) BP is understandably hesitant to implement them.

  • Travis_D

    I'm no James Cameron... but a giant self-perpetuating siphon could be used. If setup properly, the temperature gradient of the deep water-oil compared to surface water could actually form a closed (energy-neutral) system. Essentially, it would operate as a "ocean thermal energy conversion" (OTEC) system with an oil-separation stage. The OTEC tech is covered in this NewYorkTimes article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04...
    http://www.makai.com/e-energy....

    At the very least, someone should consult the folks like Lockheed Martin and Makai Ocean Engineering...

  • Karen Lea Aasand

    If the device currently over the hole can be removed it might be possible to plug the hole with:
    1. Peat moss from Canada - someone else's idea - if oil and water are mixed and peat is inserted it absorbs all the oil - Canada has enormous amounts of peat. Or use the peat to absorb oil already adrift. Or use it along with other ideas.
    2. If the U.S. has decommissioned submarines maybe one could be used as a robot and driven nose down into the hole.