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.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more