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Gusher in the Gulf

By Bill Nye | Published: May 28, 2010 – 9:56 am

For over a month now, a broken oil well has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

The last few days, I’ve appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News regarding the oil and gas gushing from the Gulf of Mexico’s seafloor. Watching and listening to spokesmen and reporters up close gives one a deep sense of how serious this whole business is. From the chairs in these various studios, it’s quite a ride.

When we drill into a deposit of oil, it often comes gushing out because the hollow spaces underground hold natural gas along with liquid oil. The gas acts like the propellant in a can of hairspray or paint. It was produced by ancient bacteria, and its pressure is still there. When we poke a hole in the underground cavity, sometimes we get a gusher; sometimes we get what petroleum workers often call, a “blowout.” The Deepwater Horizon rig was destroyed by a catastrophic blowout of natural gas and oil. It caught a spark, probably from one of the dozens, or hundreds, of electric motors on board, and the whole rig blew up killing 11 men.

With all this, oil workers look to avoid blowouts. Whenever we run pipes anywhere, we put valves in the lines. For a couple of centuries, we have been drilling for oil. So at the top of each well, we put a shutoff valve.  The bigger the well; the bigger the shutoff. This well is huge, 53 centimeters (21 inches) across. So, the shutoff valve is huge. It weighs more than a hundred tons. By long tradition, it’s called a Blow-Out Preventer (B.O.P.).

Here, the expression “preventer” is, at best, inappropriate. It didn’t prevent anything as far as we can tell.

The idea now is to pump a fluid that will block the flow. In the oil field this fluid is often a special mixture whose molecules lock together when it’s under pressure. Oil drillers call it “mud.” It looks like mud, but there’s more to it.

The molecular lock-together feature of a fluid is called “dilatancy.” The classic dilatant fluid in our everyday experience is cornstarch mixed with a small amount of water. It’s goopy, until you slap it or shake it. It locks up and does not splatter at all. So it is with drilling mud.

British Petroleum (BP) has been pumping drilling mud into the Preventer plumbing for almost two days. It seems to have slowed the oil flow a little, but not enough.

The engineers, or at least the spokesmen for the engineers, said they plan a “junk shot.” The idea is to add bits of hard  material to the mud. Traditionally, in the Texas oil field, drillers add cut-up car tires and old driving range golf balls. This “bridging” material sometimes helps the dilatant mud molecules lock up. The pipe is so big, and the flow so fast, that a golf ball isn’t really that big an object. It could easily jam against an edge or pipe joint– and that would be good. Looking at the BP executive’s faces, it doesn’t seem like this is going to work either.

Next, I expect engineers along with the Remotely Operated submarine Vehicle (ROV) drivers will cut some large portion of the top preventer off. The next pipe up the drill string is called the “riser,” and I imagine that’s what they’ll go after next. It’s big job because the material is a hard type of stainless steel. And, it’s a long way around the big pipe with a fancy saw and buffing grinder, especially when you’re doing it with a claw-fingered robot to work the material and grainy video to guide you.

After that, I hope the managers let go of the idea of trying to capture any more oil until the relief, or drilled-in-from-the-side, well is cut. I hope they put a cap or slug made from a few thousand tons of concrete on top. They could let it ooze very slowly for a few weeks, until they can get to the well casing or liner by coming in from the side. Drilling these relief wells will take a few months, because it’s, once again, miles down and hundreds of meters of solid rock.

About the rate of oil flow: there have been a great many questions about how much oil is flowing per day. At first, looking at satellite data, people thought it was about 5,000 barrels a day. A barrel is 42 gallons. So, it’s a great many gallons. (A “drum” is 55 gallons– another confusing feature of the old English system of units.) Well, it turns out most of the oil isn’t making it to the surface of the sea. It’s floating somewhere in between the sea floor and surface– a goopy mess for any living thing in the ocean.

I have some small experience in oil fields, or in the “oil patch.” I worked for a shipyard that built the world’s premier oil slick skimming boat. We had a machine derived from skimming technology that performed the seemingly trivial task of separating oil and water.

You might think it would be easy, but in nature, dust particles or plankton organisms (plankters) get covered with oil in such a way that they neither sink nor float. They’re neutrally buoyant. As small globs of oily goo, they clog up all kinds of plumbing– including the gills, fins, and wings of fish and birds.

This fundamental experience helped me explain to news anchors and viewers why there was such discrepancy between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations satellite assessment of size of the spill compared with the measurement of the pipe gusher’s oil leak.

I hope BP takes this business very seriously. Any information they are not disclosing will come out one day when various employees or friends of employees reveal the true decision process. I remain concerned that the traditions of oil spills on land are too strongly influencing the procedures being developed on the bottom of the Gulf, an ecosystem people all over the world depend on.

We use a lot of energy. This disaster helps us recognize how complex or oil technology is, and how much can go wrong. Let’s learn from this, wean ourselves from oil, and change the world.

37 Responses to “Gusher in the Gulf”

  1. Sherry Miles says:

    First, I met you briefly at the NSTA conference in New Orleans during the 2009 convention. Not only was I so excited that I became speachless, but I really did have laryngitis. I tell my high school students all the time to think outside the box, and I have an idea that I would like to share.

    If the oil and sludge mixture could be condensed to a solid state, would it not be faster to pick up for removal? Would an application of liquid nitrogen to the sludge act fast enough and last long enough to help with collection for removal? The image of two workers in suits one with a flame thrower-type piece of equipment and another with a high powered shop vac connected to a pontoon boat comes to mind. This idea, you must agree, advances human ingenuity past the point of shovels and garbage bags.

    Because I encourage my students to express their ideas, no matter how “off” they may be, if possible a reply would be greatly appreciated. They won’t believe me when I tell them what I did this summer!!

    Sherry Miles, Science Teacher, Williamson High School, Mobile, Alabama
    smiles1@mcpss.com

  2. Melanie says:

    I watched an ABC segment on the oil spill last night, and it seems like a lot of energy is spent trying to figure out who to blame for this. I agree with your statement near the end of your post, that we all need to take responsibility for the oil that we use and find alternative energy sources. I hope that this disaster can be a huge wake-up call for all of us and lead to creating eco-friendly energy alternatives and a better appreciation of our environment.

    Melanie Parker

  3. Mark says:

    Bill-

    I saw your Q&A session about the oil spill on CNN. What made me so excited about it is that you gave facts about the spill and the equipment used that I’ve have never heard before in all of the other news stories I’ve read about this disaster. Two questions.. can you describe all of the man-made equipment that’s still down there? I had assumed much of it blew out. Also, could some kind of explosives be used to seal up the hole? It’s amazing to think it’s so difficult to plug up a 21 inch hole. Could this kind of thing happen naturally (an earth quake opens up a crack into an oil reservoir that then leaks). It sounds like you think it will take months before the flow of oil is stopped.

    Thanks,

    -Mark

  4. Rohan JR says:

    Mr. Nye,
    I’m not an expert on oil drilling by any means, but I do have a mind for ideas. When I first read about the catastrophe in the gulf and the methods employed to stop the flow of oil into the ocean, I was impressed by the challenge and hold a high level of respect for professionals tackling this behemoth of all issues today. My idea is built off the original plan the BP engineers devised to stop the leak. They first tried a containment dome, the dome failed because of the crystals that formed inside the rim ( flat cover) of the dome which kept it afloat and prevented the engineers from performing the next steps in that process to stop the flow and extract the oil. The first mistake was giving up on that idea. My recommendation is to:
    1. Cut the top cover of the containment dome off, leaving just the cylinder.
    2. Change the shape or build a new cover that is concave in shape, the concave side will face inwards when placed on the dome.
    3. On the new concave top cover attach the pipe/ hose to suck/pump oil that is inside the dome.
    4. Drop the cylinder over the leak (relatively easy since there is no top), fasten in place.
    5. Drop/place the V shaped cover on-top, while engaging the pump. This will work without crystals attaching over the dome because of its shape and the pump will prevent the pressure of oil inside the dome from preventing the top being sealed once ontop.
    6. Once the top is on lock/bolt/fasten it to seal. The V shape will also use the pressure of the depth of the ocean to keep the top on and in place.
    7. Whatever they planned to do after that is up to them, but I believe revisiting this original idea with a new strategy will work. If you don’t believe me put a hose in the kitchen sink and try placing a glass over it, then then try it with a cylinder.

    I hope you find merit with this idea being man of science, and maybe you can convey this to the people in charge.

    Regards,

    Rohan J Robinson

  5. Jeff Vinnacombe says:

    Has anyone suggested using a balloon? Insert a narrow tube with an inflatable device at the end. Inflate the device with water under enough pressure to counteract the oil flow pressure. This may not stop the flow completely, but may reduce it enough to allow a cement-like mixture to be backfilled into the well and then harden.

  6. Jeff Vinnacombe says:

    Well then. After hunting around for awhile, it seems that a bunch of people including Bill himself have had this basic idea. Must be something terribly wrong or impractical about it that I’m not aware of. On the surface it seems like one of the simplest possible approaches. Oh well (pun intended).

  7. Robert Dolezal says:

    Mr. Nye, thank you for helping to explain the difficulties involved in stopping the oil leak in the gulf.

    I submitted to BP a suggestion that seems different from other approaches described in the news. The idea is to construct metal mesh structures that will trap junk-shot material in the pipe. The meshes can be constructed inside the pipe upstream of the leaks or outside the pipe at the leaks. After the meshes are in place, a series of junk shots of progressively smaller material and maybe even drilling mud would be used to fill the voids, stopping up the mesh filters and slowing the flow of oil and gas.

    The inside-the-pipe mesh can be formed of rods inserted crosswise through the pipe, possibly as diameters arrayed in a wagon wheel spoke pattern.

    An outside-the-pipe mesh for capping the open pipe end can be formed of interlinked metal chain, cables, or rods. During installation the mesh would be sparse to minimize resistance to the flow, with the mesh voids sized just small enough to capture the larger junk-shot material. The mesh would be attached to the outside of the pipe, then junk-shot material would be injected into the pipe.

    An outside-the pipe mesh for capping a side breach can be formed of the same mesh described for capping the pipe end; or of metal rings encircling the pipe, to be slid into place along the pipe and fastened with the required spacing between rings; or of two half-cylindrical rigid mesh sleeves that could be fastened together around the pipe and then slid into place over the breach for cinching into place. Junk-shot material would then be injected upstream of the breach.

    Difficulties with these approaches might include (1) overcoming the flow to install the meshes, which might require increasing the mesh area to form more of a fishing net or hot-air-balloon shape to further reduce the resistance to the flow during installation of the mesh; (2) attaching the mesh to the pipe, especially at the open pipe end, but the right fittings should do the job; and (3) fabricating a mesh of sufficient strength to withstand the pressure when the mesh is stopped up with debris.

    Do you think this approach is feasible? Thanks for considering it.

  8. Michael says:

    Thank for sharing the information about BP’s solution for stopping the oil
    in the Gulf of Mexico.
    I came across a suggestion from a man in egypt who is a engineer, he was making he suggestion of using a thermite reaction with Iron ore. I would think that this would take persistent effort as well.
    I thought this was a clever idea and wasn’t sure if this was possible because of the
    depth of the spill.
    Every science geek in high school dabbled in thermite at one time or another.

    Here is a link to his suggestion

    http://connect.al.com/user/hodieb-khalifa/index.html

    I am very curious of what you think?
    Your opinion would be much appreciated.

    Thank you
    Michael

  9. David says:

    Hey Bill… Hope u get a chance to read this. Ive been tossing this thing around my head since it sank to the bottom. I knew then it was giong to get bad. First thought to mind was blasting it with a MK 67 Submarine Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM)… the pressure from the collasping blast/bubble could reverse flow and crush/shift the earth closed. But now I got on the cap. Instead of cutting the pipe they could visit CRUSHING the pipe closed… like a giant pair of hydraulic pinchers or the “jaws-of-life”, but in reverse. Thanks for ur good and honest reporting… watched u when i was younger. Keep spreading the knowledge.
    Also, the Deepwater Horizon has to be risen! No other option… and that would be an engineering feat!
    Thanks,
    Dave

  10. john raaff says:

    Hi Bill,
    Listened to you on the PBS Newshour tonight.
    Here is my solution in stopping the flow of oil and gas:
    After the mudinjection failure BP planned to have the pipe cut.
    If BP does not cut the pipe even with the ground I suggest the following:

    To design A Hydraulic Crimper

    The well pipe I understand has a 21″ diameter.

    The Hydraulically powered crimper has to jaws.
    One jaw (the anvil)concave shaped has the same curvature of the 21″ pipe.

    The other jaw is is shaped such that its convex surface fits the concave jaw when the jaws are closed.

    Underwater robots place the hydraulic powered crimping tool jaws open around the vertical pipe end and resting on the sea floor.

    When the crimper closes hydraulically around the pipe it is designed to squeeze the pipe similar to the way an electrical crimping tool crimps a lug around a wire

    The convex jaw dents the pipe until the pipe’s shape at the location of the squeeze conforms to the letter C
    When that happens the leak will be stopped.

    When the tool relaxes (hydraulics power is removed there will be very little leakage due to the elasticity/bounce-back of the crimp.
    Of course the success of the above scenario depends on the well pipe material. If the well pipe is cast iron the material will be brittle and will not squeeze.
    signed,
    john raaff,
    indialantic florida
    3217773978

  11. karl says:

    Bill , why has no one tried a very powerfull electro maganet placed on the pipe to capture magnetic material put into the junk shots ? A super-collider class eletromagenet.

  12. matt fowler says:

    Bill,
    I caught your appearance on the PBS News Hour, which brings me to your website. I thank you for what you do to instill in kids an interest in science.
    It appears to me that the “top kill” failed because the flow resistance upward though the broken riser pipe was simply too low for them to overcome the pressure loss and force the mud to flow down the wellbore to stop the oil. My suggestion, which I submitted to BP’s suggestions website on 5/28, is to reduce the upward flow towards the riser by obstructing the flow at the leak site with a large mound of progressively less coarse crushed rock placed over the leaksite that would then be grouted up with thick drill muds and cement through several pipes placed around the leak site before placing the rock. The rock would be dropped from barges through a suitably sized pipe to the surface positioned at the lower end by the robot subs. The size of the rock mound would be determined to provide the weight needed to withstand the pressure of the slowed flow. Once capped and grouted the “top kill” (with junk shots) could then be resumed with a much better chance of getting the mud to go down the wellbore. If they still cannot kill the well, then go to the “cut riser and capture option.” Once the riser is cut off the flows will be higher and there will be no turning back.

  13. Steve Mackin says:

    Hi Bill,

    Great job of explaining the situation!

    So here is my solution.

    Roll up 6000ft plastic tubing. 40 foot in diameter, 9mil. Like silage bags (http://www.farmbagsupply.com/silagebags.htm)
    Put the roll on a ship and transport to the sight.
    Procure gas turbines + gas line compressors and install on ships. 3’000 psi discharge.
    Fabricate a 40′ diameter aluminum ring with a handles for the ROVs to grab.
    Attach several large submersible seawater pumps to the ring. Inlet 10′ above sea floor, Outlet 10′ above sea floor inside plastic tube.
    Attach 6″ diameter 6000ft hoses to the seawater pump outlet hoses. These will be used to blow 3,000psia air into the seawater stream.
    Attach the ring to the plastic tube.
    Give the ring to ROVs.
    ROV descend with the ring to the BOP
    Just prior to reaching the BOP turn on the seawater pumps and 3,000psi air hoses to inflate the tube. Meter air and water as necessary.
    Place ring over BOP.
    Pumped seawater + air + oil + natural gas will flow upward.
    Use existing surface equipment to separate the oil, natural gas, and water.

  14. David says:

    The “engineers”, and i use the term lightly, have no accual experience at 5000ft. Maybe the deep water welders have a few insights… but they should have used a portable type band saw instead of a big metal disk. Weight,Inertia,access,etc. They need help.That is for sure

  15. James Haisten says:

    Solution to the oil leak: Pump tons of concrete all around the leak, building up a sort of volcano that could be capped once the concrete had hardened. While pumping concrete, after a couple feet, on opposite sides of the leak, lay two steel bars that are bent into a “u” shape horizontally on the concrete. As the concrete piles up, the bars are covered except for the “u” shaped end. These will be used to anchor a wrecking ball or some sort of heavy ball, so it can be pulled in to the “volcano” with steel cables, after the concrete hardens. One anchor has an attached cable that is attached to one side of the ball. The other side of the ball has a cable attached to it that is threaded through the other anchor, and up to a ship. The ship pulls the cable tight, pulling the ball into the hole. The tension on the cable plus the weight of the ball hold the leak shut and all is covered with a thick layer of more concrete. The final result is a smooth mound of concrete and no leak.

  16. Jim Faragalli says:

    Injecting liquid nitrogen into the pipe at high bpressure my freeze the
    oil mixture enough to stem the flow so the pipe can be capped .

  17. Jim V says:

    Bill,

    How much surface area of the Gulf is covered by an oil sheen or slick, and given that much of the rain we receive in central and eastern North America starts with water that evaporates in the Gulf, could the presence of surface oil hinder evaporation and lead to drier or drought conditions?

  18. Lance says:

    Hi Bill,

    I know I can’t be the only person to have thought of this, but I’m going to ask anyway. All the animations and videos of the damaged well show the majority of the damage above a bolted flange. Even the saw cut above this flange and the latest containment cap, which is still leaking, sits on top of it. Why hasn’t an attempt been made to remove the bolts, discard the damaged half of the flange, and install a new flange to the well’s flange. Or, then design a containment cap to fit the flange instead of trying to fit it to a mutilated pipe. It seems to me that utilizing the undamaged half of this flange would have a higher probability of a leak free connection.

    Thank you,
    Lance

  19. David says:

    In hind sight, the 5000 foot riser pipe that lays bundled on the ocean floor should have been cut free from the oil rig and raised by cable, then u would have a slightly leaking pipe that’s reattached to a rig and easily repaired by welds/patches or pumped full of cement. BP has no care for the gulf… it’s their dumping grounds thanks to our government. They’re not heeding enviromental warnings and taking NO advice from experienced engineers or companies… they told NASA to shove off. Time to send the Brits packing.

  20. David says:

    I’ve been thinking along the same lines as Lance. There is a nice big strong flange there to act as a seat for the LMRP. Why don’t they set it on that with a sealing grommet and use clamps that would hook to the underside of the flange to pull it down tight?

    And why didn’t they just crimp the leaking riser pipe to slow down the leak before they tried the ‘junk shot’? I guess we’re all stupid…

  21. Rene says:

    Why arent we using microbes to cleanup the mess we have now? Also what are the bad effects(if any)of the use of oil eating microbes?

  22. jennifer sykes says:

    Hi I saw your cnn show today. I think they should get some of the 15 million unemployed americans out there to clean this up by hand. and house them in temporary housing that they bought for Katrina victims (all those trailers).

    I have worked with creosote and crude oil as an analytical environmental chemist and cleaning this up by hand is the only way.

  23. Andy says:

    I listened to your talk today on CNN, and I think we need to clarify something about the pressure of the oil and how it can be plugged. Yes, the pressure coming out of the pipe is immense.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/25/…
    Upward pressure from wellhead is “9,000 pounds per square inch. At a depth of 5,000 feet, the water pressure bearing down on the leak is about 2,500 pounds per square inch. That leaves a difference of about 6,500 pounds per square inch of upward pressure at the wellhead.”

    Now, how big is the opening? I have seen the diameter of 21 inches noted frequently. Let’s go with that. Pipe Area = pie x (10.5) x (10.5) = 346 sq. in. . 346 x 6,500 = 2251344 lbs = 1126 tons. That’s a lot of damn pressure coming out of one pipe. If this is right, it would mean that a plug would have to weigh at least this much to hold the pressure into the pipe? Not neccesarily. For instance, the way a Blow Out Preventer works, is that it slowly hinders the flow of oil, and the weight of the oil itself holds down the pressure. The BOP (which didn’t work) didn’t not weigh anywhere close to 1126 tons. I think it weighs somewhere around 150 tons.

    Bill stated on CNN that a concrete cap on the leak would have to weigh 2,600 tons. I don’t know how he came up with this figure. That may be true if you plan to just drop a large block of concrete on the opening, and this would have to done after the old BOP is removed. If this is possible. And this might create other problems like fracturing the pipe or the ground and having other leaks appear.

  24. Andy says:

    I think Bill should take a serious look at the suggestion put forward by Karman Khoobehi, a doctor at LSU medical center. Karman’s suggestion is simple yet appears effective. Since BP cut off the riser, there should be clear access to the wellhead which is just above the old BOP. Karman’s device would be sized to fit over the old BOP. Using technology and physics he understands from placing splints in arteries, Karman’s device would slow the flow of oil and as it backs up, the weight of the oil itself will hold back the immense pressure. This is how a BOP works, using a “choke”.

  25. Mario says:

    Bill,

    You mentioned on CNN that a containment funnel will have to be 2600 tons in weight. A long list of double hull oil barges of that tonnage, and higher, can be purchased for under $600K

    http://www.sunmachinery.com/barges_for_sale.htm#BARGES

    Why not sink one of these with a controlled valve and oil raiser installed on the deck directly above the broken blowout preventer?

    Mario

  26. John Williams says:

    I am engineer. And I have a great mechanical idea on how to stop the Gulf Leak (for 45+ days now). I am a very creative thinker (see my www. consumertronics.net/cheops.html site for my hydraulic theory on how The Great Pyramid of Egypt was built – I solved “The Riddle of The Ages”).

    I believe that my idea will stop about 99% of the leak, is relatively easy and inexpensive to build, test and implement, can be tested on land, and is applicable for many other leak situations as well, including those at great depths.

    My concern is that if I provide my idea to BP or to anyone else, except straight to a Government official willing to promptly acknowledge receipt of it, what would stop them from stealing my idea? Sites I have been going to for a month now either suggest that I provide my idea to BP or give no assurance that they won’t steal my idea.

  27. John Williams says:

    I am engineer. And I have a great mechanical idea on how to stop the Gulf Leak (for 45+ days now). I am a very creative thinker (see my www. consumertronics.net/cheops.html site for my hydraulic theory on how The Great Pyramid of Egypt was built – I solved \"The Riddle of The Ages\").

    I believe that my idea will stop about 99% of the leak, is relatively easy and inexpensive to build, test and implement, can be tested on land, and is applicable for many other leak situations as well, including those at great depths.

    My concern is that if I provide my idea to BP or to anyone else, except straight to a Government official willing to promptly acknowledge receipt of it, what would stop them from stealing my idea? Sites I have been going to for a month now either suggest that I provide my idea to BP or give no assurance that they won\’t steal my idea.

  28. Patrick McNulty says:

    Pump the 40 degree sea water that is at that depth into the riser connected to the BOP to cool the methane/oil mixture to about 45 degrees. Then pump Bitumen/Tar at 100 degrees along with the cool sea water in a mixing chamber at the same time and when the tar reaches 50 degrees it solidifies as hard as a hockey puck in the BOP thus plugging the BOP and stopping the oil flow. Once the flow has stopped then fill the rest of the oil well head with concrete stopping it for good.

  29. Darrell McEver says:

    Remove the cap; Unbolt the Riser Flange and remaining 21″diameter pipe spool from the Flex Joint on top of the BOP. (2 possible solutions from this point) (1) The Drill stem is sticking out of the Flex Joint, put a Grinnel Coupling on the stem and hook the Mud line to it and start pumping mud to the BOTTOM of the Well to do a BOTTOM KILL. A 21″ Diameter Flanged spool piece could be fabricated so the mud supply line runs thru a blind flange that can be loosely bolted the control back pressure on the well while the kill is going on. (2) Bolt a new 21″ Flanged Riser Pipe to the Flex Joint and run the new line to a ship on the surface. Also it might be a good idea for you to take a hard look at the flow rate coming out of the 21″ Riser. I had the rate at between 5.6 feet per second and 20 feet per second, at 5.6 feet per secong the spill rate is at least 2 Barrels a second or 170,000 Barrels a day. I am a retired fomer VP of Engineering from Houston.

  30. John Williams says:

    I am engineer who posted a few hours ago today about my great mechanical idea on how to stop the Gulf Leak. I believe that my idea will stop about 99% of this leak, is relatively easy and inexpensive to build, test and implement, can be tested and refined on land, and is applicable for many other oil, gas, water, etc. leak situations as well, whether located in the water or ground, including leaks at great depths .

    Since you post up suggestions right away, I state my idea below (NOTE: I do not waive any intellectual rights; the gravity of this emergency situation requires revelation of all reasonable ideas immediately):

    I propose that plugs be made in the basic shape and form of umbrellas or badminton birdies (shuttlecocks), which I will also call \"birdies\" for simplicity purposes. The birdie \"skirt\" consists of strong radial high-spring steel rods connected to the birdie \"head\" supporting a canopy of a flexible and extremely strong carbon-fiber-embedded composite material (Kevlar won\’t work because Kevlar is not water resistant). The canopy composite material should probably be about a 1/2\" thick to resist the huge pressures. The sizes of these birdie plugs can vary and will depend upon the inside diameter of the pipe which will carry the birdies to the leaking pipe (not necessarily the same pipe, for examples, this carrying pipe could be a lower feeder pipe which is used to deliver drilling mud or provide relief, or a smaller diameter pipe inserted into the mouth of the leaking pipe). The birdie has a head more buoyant than its skirt. The head can contain sensing, timing and triggering electronics. For each birdie, the skirt is severely tied back and secured at or near its end distal from the head by a steel retaining ring to make the birdies as streamlined as possible and with minimum outer diameters. The birdies are then pushed into the leaking pipe, likely tail first, and then released once in deep enough inside the leaking pipe. Upon release into the leaking pipe, the retaining ring is broken, which can be done using a squib or by pulling a pin. The skirts of the birdies then spring open, thereby giving them the shape and form of umbrellas or badminton birdies. The pressure force of the leaking pipe will then try to drive the birdies to its leaking end (usually vertical). However, the escaping oil, gas, and/or water pressure will also further press each extended skirt into the inside wall of the leaking pipe, thereby jamming and pinning it into place, especially if the inside wall is rough, dented, bent or mishapen. The birdies should then effectively jam the leaking pipe and stop most to virtually all of the leak even if this pipe is very dented, bent or mishapen. The only question is whether or not a skirt can be made strong enough to withstand the enormous pressures.

    I foresee variations of my idea. One variation would be to attach the skirt at or near the end of an insertion pipe (which might be used to capture some of the escaped oil and gas), which is smaller diameter than the leaking pipe. Instead of the birdies having a head, the insertion pipe would be used instead to secure the skirt, and this method can be used with or without the above method also being used. The retaining ring(s) (more than one birdie can be used) secures the birdie skirt(s) to the outside of the insertion pipe. When the insertion pipe is inserted deep enough inside the leaking pipe, the retaining ring(s) are busted away to release the skirt(s) so that the skirt(s) springs open and then locks into the inside wall of the leaking pipe, thereby locking the insertion pipe inside the leaking pipe to seal the leak. The flared skirt would also double as a funnel for the insertion pipe.

    Thanks. John

  31. Keith Stevens says:

    If the feds could feed 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills directly into the pipe at .001% the rate of current federal spending, the resulting currency-oil mixture would completely fill the well, coagulate and form a permanent plug in under 60 seconds.

  32. Bambucha says:

    My ideas seem to have no merit for stopping the oil flow, but it’s nice that I recognize a technique soon to be used by Costner’s company to separate the oil from the water. Any dairy engineer would recognize the Westfalia design of separation of butterfat from milk.

    As an aside, I think government has not rushed to stop the leak because they cannot figure out how to ‘steal’ the contract without being too obvious.

  33. Bambucha says:

    Yeah, the equipment is probably very expensive, but preparation for emergencies would have been better than just reacting to it. They should have been prepared. Kill off the ocean, it may kill off mankind too.

  34. Donny says:

    It seems like there is finally some good news with the spill. The Houston Chronicle reports, U.S. ships were being outfitted earlier this month with four pairs of skimming booms airlifted from the Netherlands and should be deployed within days.” Finally a good sign. For all those feeling pretty gloomy about this situation, I recommend a good laugh… Here’s a funny joke, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd0svVWfFbo

  35. Allison says:

    Bill, we would love your support for Perfect Science, which cleaned up 87 BP oil wells in the 90′s. Guess what, BP has not called Perfect Science this time around, even though they know their products can transform the oil and the dispersants into beneficial nutrients and pure water.

  36. Your report feels like an A.You’re amazing.

  37. Oil Dependence

    We all must take this lesson very seriously. We are entering the age of hard to get to oil. We must all take drastic steps in our own lives and reduce our need for oil. So many ways to stop wasting. Please do an energy and waste audit of your home today. Start looking at the watts on each appliance. Start understanding your water usage. Start using public transit and bikes. Spend some time planting trees. Start zero waste systems in your neighborhoods. Start compost and garden projects with your neighbors. Lets get serious and help by stopping the demand for these polluting products. We have the power to withdraw legitimacy from the BP’s of the world.

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