Freeze It, Crimp It, Plug It, Nuke It
Slate readers' ideas for how to stop the oil leaking in the Gulf of Mexico.
If all else fails, we could always try to bury the leak. Slate readers suggested covering the busted well with concrete or a massive ship hull. Worldocean Consulting's Graham favors this idea, suggesting that a barge could smother the leaks. InnoCentive's Albarelli counters that you "would still need to get the oil out and to the surface," while the consultant notes that you'd be replicating the problems of BP's original containment dome—a barge, too, would fill with hydrates. There's also the risk of damaging the well by dropping a massive object, nor would it be easy to anchor the concrete (or the barge) so it doesn't get dislodged by the massive pressure from the spewing oil.
How about using submarines? Commenter Justin Medeiros recommends a fleet of "subs that take in oiled sea water and run it through a centrifuge to separate the two." An interesting thought, says Albarelli, but probably not timely considering that someone would need to build such an armada of undersea, oil-skimming vehicles. InnoCentive and our anonymous consultant were both intrigued by the e-mailer who wrote into Slate's Explainer inbox recommending that BP commandeer the submersibles used to explore the wreckage of the Titanic. "I would like to go down in one and take a look around," wrote the consultant, who called this "the only good idea" on our list.
Several Slate readers sent in ideas that wouldn't require any engineering. A commenter who goes by "Amy" wrote that "[t]here is one simple answer, and it will warm the hearts of every American—BP offers to pay for all oil that is collected, on land or at sea, by individual or group." A heartwarming idea, yes, but as Albarelli says: "There may be liability concerns if someone gets hurt collecting oil. … There are many examples from the Exxon Valdez spill of non-professionals getting involved with good intentions, but actually making the situation worse." Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, by contrast, suggested the best course would be to do absolutely nothing. "We should calculate the cost of this leak … and using this target figure, we should pursue new environmental and economic initiatives to neutralize the costs of the spill," he explained. I can see it now—millions upon millions of solar panels and wind turbines and recycling trucks, all emblazoned with the BP logo.
Correction, May 26, 2010:This article originally mischaracterized a comment by reader Brian Hartman. While Hartman wrote that "the Russian Government [once] used a nuclear bomb to close an oil well that got out of hand," he argued "strongly against using any sort of nuclear device, especially under water, in one of the most inter-connected eco-systems in the world." Rather, Hartman advocated detonating a non-nuclear bomb. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)
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