Nuking the Leak

June 4th, 2010 at 5:20 pm | 14 Comments |

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Observers with varying degrees of technical expertise in fixing oilfield disasters – from bloggers who know nothing to engineers who know more than most – are saying that the time has come to consider sealing the Deepwater Horror with the ultimate weapon.

The big idea – send a nuclear bomb down to the blowout from hell, blast the well to smithereens, and turn the subsea formation into a vast wall of glassified rock that would seal off the oil forever.

The Department of Energy insists that the nuclear option is not on the table, but the more excitable contributors to the blogosphere have pointed out that federal nuclear scientists have been asked to contribute ideas for closing down the leak.

The bomb-the-well proponents point out that the Soviets sealed off out-of-control gas wells with nuclear explosives back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Why not give it a try?

First, note that the Soviets were dealing with gas wells on dry land, not with oil wells beneath a mile of water.

Second, there are geopolitical angles to consider. Would we really want to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an excuse to put on a phony show of righteous indignation about the Great Satan setting off a nuke? It would be propaganda manna from heaven for his rancid regime, wrapped in a bow and topped off with chocolate mints, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

See how fast Ahmadinejad would dial up Iran’s A-bomb program. See how fast other petro-rogues would try to finagle a bomb of their own, just in case, you see, that their oilfields spring a big leak.

Second, there is the small matter of unintended consequences. What if instead of sealing the leak, the blast enlarges it? What if the energy of the explosion creates subsea fractures that create new escape pathways for oil and gas? What if the blasted cavity collapses under the immense pressures beneath the seabed?

And what about impacts on the Gulf Coast’s economy and communities? If you think that one of the world’s most productive fishing industries is in dire straits now, try persuading consumers to eat shrimp and oysters from a nuclear blast zone. Bombalaya, anyone?

Third, there are logistics questions. Who positions the nuke for the blast? BP? Anyone up for giving BP that job, please raise your hand.

That the nuclear option is under discussion at all is a testament to the spreading scope of the Gulf disaster – and to the environmental and security risks that we have run because we haven’t summoned the will to get off the oil dependence treadmill and diversify our energy economy.

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • msmilack

    I haven’t heard anyone with any real expertise say this is a good idea; but like many silly notions, it gets batted around on talk TV and people think it is being seriously considered; whereas I really in truly believe that the people in charge wouldn’t consider seriously doing this for a minute.

  • easton

    msmilack, yeah. They got two relief wells being drilled. They are pretty much guaranteed to solve this crisis. You screw this up with a nuke and it goes bad, there is no recovery.

  • TerryF98

    In order to use a nuke you would have to drill a pretty big well to put it deep enough to have any chance of being effective.

    So if you are drilling a well to deliver a nuke you are better off just drilling the relief well. DUH!

  • onion

    I don’t see any harm in nuking the entire Gulf Coast. Put them out of their misery. Isn’t that the American way whenever we can’t solve problems with other nations we bomb them back into the stone age. Viet Nam. Africa, Central Aamerica, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, etc. Well at least everyone is gatting a front row seat to witness just how inept our so called rocket making, bomb peddling, warrior handles real disasters. If there is radioactive materials in the air and the water afterwards maybe therewill be some new jobs open up for more idiots and then the green house gasses can put more money in the pockets of our protectors the rich Bankers. Why isn’t Al gore out there pushing for Nuke he has no wife anymore. Mc Cain wants to nuke and bomb, bomb, bomb Iran nuke the well would give them credibility Gore can collect his carbon tax and Mc Cain can witness his dream come true. Seriously though poisoning the air is smart sounds like something that came out of NASA. It is difficult sometimes to believe I am on a real planet with real people. Good lick boys you asked for it just drink your kool-aid and go back to bed. Pay no attention to the man with his finger on the button.

  • nwahs

    I think we should save the nukes for the giant ants and sea monsters that might start coming out of the well. Also, you never know when an asteroid will take aim at earth! Can’t waste the nukes.

  • searchlight

    Setting off a nuclear device 25 miles offshore, near existing oilwells and undersea pipelines? A truly idiotic idea, in and of itself.

    Never mind that a nuclear blast would require pulling all equipment and ships away from the blowout, including everything relating to the relief wells, setting back the latter for the several days or more that it would take to move everything back and resume drilling.

    Never mind that a nuke might destroy the relief wells altogether.

    Never mind that the idea might not even work, and may in fact make the blowout worse.

    Never mind that the idea comes from use of nukes to put out blowout fires on land in Russia, a totally different situation than the Gulf.

  • ottovbvs

    “Observers with varying degrees of technical expertise in fixing oilfield disasters…… but the more excitable contributors to the blogosphere ”

    …………Excitable idiots with no knowledge you mean…..and that can encompass people with engineering degrees who may or may not know know anything about oil exploration

  • oldgal

    We got into this mess by not considering worst case scenarios, so why not go one better? Why settle for a mere oil spill when one could have a radioactive oil spill?

  • bamboozer

    Plug the leak with Rush Limbaugh, win-win. Even if it do’s not work: Win!

  • JonF

    Is there such a thing as a nuke that doesn’t produce radioactive debries? As ghastly as the oil is as it washes up on shore, I suspect people from Tampa to Galveston will be even less pleased if hot fission fragments start decorating their beaches.

  • ktward

    That the nuclear option is under discussion at all is a testament to the spreading scope of the Gulf disaster

    Under discussion by bloggers & armchair engineeers, you mean?

    Not to disparage engineers en masse, but I happen to know at least one of them who ‘questions’ that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job. (Something or other about the way in which the Towers collapsed leads these CTers to believe that the Towers were rigged.)

    C’mon, no one who matters takes such a notion seriously, least of all the WH.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/us/03nuke.html

    Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said that neither Energy Secretary Steven Chu nor anyone else was thinking about a nuclear blast under the gulf. The nuclear option was not — and never had been — on the table, federal officials said.

    “It’s crazy,” one senior official said.

  • nhthinker

    A one-thousand ton 200-ft long tapered rod could be lowered into the wellhead. The rod needs to be 18.55″ in diameter at the top

    It should be at least two to four times as heavy as the force of gas and oil coming out the 18.5″ diameter pipe-which is estimated in the range of a million pounds of pressure.

    The end of the rod needs to be very long and narrow so that the alignment does not get overly affected by the upward gusher.

    Tankers would be used to lower the rod and robots can be used to get the alignment.

    The problem is the oil industry solutions are generally all engineered to get oil out and they never designed solutions to run away gushers in water so deep.

  • TerryF98

    nhthinker, there are actually 3 distinct leaks at this well. One of which is below the sea floor. BP are trying to cut off the main riser and put a control valve above the blow out preventer, which also has a leak.

    So not so simple a job. The more you stop the oil at the riser the higher becomes the pressure on the other two leaks.

  • nhthinker

    I have not seen any discussion about a leak below the wellhead. Would you please point me to a URL?

    The tapered rod solution can extend down to the lowest leak – instead of 18.5″ diameter- it could be changed to 17.5″ diameter rod cutting off 90% of the pressure and allowing a junk-shot to work.
    The only way a tapered rod would not work is if the pipe is bent too much- the tapered rod could be make of a relatively flexible material to handle slight bends.

    The key is the geometry to assure the tapered end guides into the wellhead. The other issue is whether the casings on the wellhead need to be reinforced more in order to handle the extra 2 to 4 million pound load- probably not- as the weight of the tapered rod is about the same as the planned weight of the mud they were trying to use to cap the well.