OK, I usually have a deep respect for experts, if for no other reason than that they have usually spent years learning what I have just passingly browsed during the previous 30 minutes, and with most subjects requiring “expertise” the old cliché that “the more you learn, the more you appreciate how much more there is to learn” ends up holding true. I prefer to err on the side of humility and thoughtful collection of facts, rather than barrelling in at max-volume like a shameless Labrador puppy. However, in recent years I’ve been seeing what I believe to be an increasing number of “experts” of certain subjects who are in fact quite underqualified in the subject itself, but are veritable geniuses at “manipulation of public opinion about the subject”. Take, for example, the present “oil spill” in the Gulf of Mexico (“oil disaster of epic and ultimately globally catastrophic proportions” would be an appropriate and more-accurate-than-you-want-to-believe way to say it). Even after only some superficial searching and a few lucky finds, it didn’t take long for me to find a lot of very credible and substantiated content implying or outright stating that the BP “experts” are either running an unprecedented botch-job which stretches the limits of belief, or they have opaque reasons for not heeding any of the most obvious and sensible suggestions which the independent experts have been screaming at them from the sidelines, for weeks. As for the “opaque reasons” option, I often find that the large majority of people who can’t subscribe to “all that conspiracy nonsense” in such cases, start changing their opinions a bit after hearing some of the worse statistics about the staggeringly enormous (read “corrupting”) amount of money and power that changes hands within and between such mega-corporations.

Anyway, I don’t want to rant today. I admire that a flood of public-members have been throwing suggestions and possible solutions at various channels recently, and wish to contribute my fourpence worth. I was reading through hundreds of suggestions for either cleaning up the spill, or stopping the “source”, and I found myself remembering a very cool quote from Einstein, which I can not now locate anywhere, to quote it exactly, but the gist of it was “What’s important is to educate yourself to a high level, but to still be able to ask questions a child would ask” (quoting very loosely). The reason I thought of this was because a childishly simple yet important question occurred to me, and after some searching it still remains apparently almost unasked on the blogs, etc:

If so many oil-extraction techniques don’t work at high-pressure, deep-sea levels, why not focus and redirect the oil at the source – directly to the surface, or even to solid land, for real-time treatment there?

I realise there are such high pressures and so much fast-moving oil down there that it is impossible to “attach” pipes and suchlike, but because the oil is gushing out and up at a very strong rate, all that is needed to contain almost all of it would be effectively a very big upside-down weighted metal funnel, attached to a very wide (how many metres’ diameter?) and long (1.5km to surface) buoyant hose suitable for oil transportation. I have read that the sea-floor is very fragile, and would collapse under any serious amount of weight, but if the funnel is weighted just enough to counter the upwards-pressure of the oil flow, the funnel could be suspended over the leak, very low to the ground, but without exerting any actual weight on the ground. Variations in pressure could even be dealt with relatively easily by automating slight increases/decreases in weight used, by way of some kind of surface pressure sensor inside the funnel, and a negative-feedback loop. Too close, too much surface pressure from the oil, and weight would stop being added. Too far, too little pressure, more weight would be added.

This is not a suggestion to process the oil itself, or to “stop” the source. It is to simply contain and redirect the oil-flow (and some unavoidable but small amount of sea-water, etc) either to surface-level by pipe, or even to land if necessary, which would facilitate realtime processing using techniques which would have been non-viable “at the source” (in deep high-pressure conditions). Of course it is not 100% airtight, but I think it could isolate a very high percentage of the oil gushing out, and maybe then other proven techniques like oil-eating microbes or centrifuge-filters could realistically deal with the small amount of oil which would “miss” the funnel, without any potential ecological side-effects they might have when being used on all the oil.

Materials needed:

  1. Enough non-eroding material to construct the giant funnel.
  2. Enough static balast-weight to approximately cancel the upwards pressure exerted by the oil against the funnel plus the buoyancy of the hose
  3. A system involving a sensor of upward-pressure against the funnel (or a very accurate device for measuring variance in depth), and an automated way of increasing/decreasing the weights attached to the funnel (possibly some deep-sea submersibles physically attached to the funnel, which increase downward/upward thrust based on the feedback loop)
  4. 1.5Km long very wide oil-resistant buoyant hose or an unknown length(?) if necessary to direct the flow all the way to solid land…
  5. Some sensible way of filtering/processing/disposing of the slightly diluted oil-and-mud output fast enough to keep up with the rate of the leak, while keeping it entirely separated from open seawater.

Pros and Cons:

  1. Oil tends to rise, so won’t start trickling out the bottom of the funnel (especially with the upward pressure occurring right underneath it). If there is a lot of mud mixed in, it might tend to sink instead…
  2. Whatever processing technique is employed at the “receiving end” would *have* to be able to remove the oil as fast as the leak at the seafloor is spewing it out…

I realise I am no engineering expert, or geologist, etc. So maybe this idea is laughable. Please send me any feedback – I’d like to see if there is any substance to it. Here is a very quick and painfully bad sketch of it:

© 2010 rowanthorpe.wordpress.com. This RSS Feed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Greece License. If you believe the version of this material which you are reading infringes this license, please send details to rowanthorpe(at)gmail[dot]com so legal action can be taken immediately.