BP oil spill in the Gulf

The BP oil well that sprung a leak has led to one of the most concentrated environmental disasters, especially for the Gulf Coast region of the Southeastern United States and surrounding coastal areas. The majorly oversimplified problem is that there is a leak in the well far below the water surface, and it’s hemorrhaging oil into the ocean. No one seems sure of how to fix it.

While I am ignorant with respect to almost anything beyond what I’ve stated above, the overwhelming complexity of the problem reminded me of another problem that I once read about as a child. In that case, there was a sunken ship or something that was submerged in the ocean, and someone had recalled an old comic where they put a lot of ping pong balls into a submerged ship in order to raise it. The idea is very simple: increasing the buoyancy in a closed system should exert a force on the object and raise it to the surface of the water.

In the case with the oil well, while the specifics of such a notion would need to be worked out, here’s one of my simplistic ideas. Because we cannot get to the source of the leak easily, perhaps we can try and contain the leak in another way, by placing a sleeve over the entire well. If sealed properly at the ocean floor, this could conceivably fill the sleeve with oil and give us a chance to contain it from the top instead of dumping into the ocean.

Another simplistic idea is to increase the size of the aperture at the surface, again where we can perhaps control the oil a bit better. Because there is pressure being exerted into the pipe, at the moment it is flowing out of the break. But if another aperture is created, perhaps the pressure is enough to push oil beyond the break and toward the surface. Consider a straw that has a hole in its side. Now actively push water through. If the pressure is relatively low, water will flow out of the side hole and little if none will reach the top, depending on several factors such as aperture size relative to the diameter of the straw and pressure. If the pressure is higher, however, this will send more of the flow past the side hole, since the side hole is oriented orthogonally to the flow of the fluid. Essentially, create another break at the top in order to lessen the impact of the lower break.

Obviously these two notions are very simplistic, but they could conceivably lead to a solution to containing the growing problem in the Gulf.


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