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Matthew Lickona 6 p.m., Nov. 17
Yesterday morning I heard the CEO of Shell describing what he believes is our last resort to fix this. He described building a tall steel diaphragm (sort of like I proposed below) but then burying it with sand and then......dropping a nuke! I thought "No!!!! I cannot believe they are missing the simplest and most natural solution to this".
I have been really thinking about the root of this problem and how we can solve it. I am by no means an expert but I do have a Masters in Architecture and I did pass the Building Technology California Architectural Board exam that dealt with design for structures and forces.
In examining the root of this problem what I have concluded is that the problem is not the leak itself, the problem is the tremendous pressure being created by the well that some reports suggest is as deep as 6 miles below the bottom of the ocean. So the question is not "how do you plug this leak?", the question is "how do you deal with the intense pressure?"....and the answer is simply "you do not".
Every solution thus far being proposed and tried by BP tries to plug the leak. Each of these solutions has made the problem much worse. Any mitigation or slowing of the flow is causing a back up in the casing and absolutely destroying this casing below causing fissures that are creating multiple leaks in the sea-bed. If they continue down this path they could make the problem unfixable.
I have a very simple solution that I really think could work but it requires them to change the way they are looking at this.
The best analogy for this problem is what happens when you shoot a bullet into a bucket of water....the bullet doesn't even hit the bottom. The water absorbs most of the thrust. That is what is happening here on a much larger scale. Sure the spill has massive thrust but the ocean has billions of tons of weight countering that thrust. And yes the oil is winning in the battle because it keeps pushing up but if you look closely at the particles as they are being released they are not shooting straight up or out, they are spiraling up in a vortex of kinetic energy. That is a good thing. It means the kinetic energy is being released very quickly right at the leak.
In other words a particle may only move "up" a few feet but because it is quickly spiraling up it may have actually moved a hundred feet or so. The faster the particle spirals around, the more energy thats being released. What I am getting at is if you allow that kinetic energy to be released in the 1st 20-50 feet and then start corraling it to the top it will be a 1000 times easier..
They are trying to stop the bullet or at least wrap the new casing tightly around the barrel of the gun while the bullet is being shot. It will never work.
Instead they need to build a steel diaphragm (like a shipping container but much bigger with no top or bottom (turned on side of course) outside the range of horizontal thrust which is only about 10 feet or so (judging by the video). The diaphragm may be 30-50' tall but its wide open at the top so the oil keeps flowing The sides could even be open at bottom to still access leak and ALLOW salt water in to absorb thrust and energy. Then they have a new foundation or ground zero as they love to say and the pressure is dramatically decreased (like bullet in bucket). They then drop closed steel diaphragms slightly tapered (just like the shape of the TransAmerica building) respective to the decreasing pressure til you can channel it into the casing.
Sure you will get alot of salt water but that is OK. Salt water can be spun out with a centerfuge at the top. Essentially we need to create a reverse funnel to corral and channel the oil rather than trying to stop or slow the flow.
I certainly don't think Im the 1st person to think of this. I bet BP has 100s of emails with some version of this suggestion, but I continue to see BP and the media suggest we have totally run out of options and we must resort to something as apocalyptic as a nuke. So that is why I am trying to get the word out even if others have already suggested it. I think this approach could work to contain most of this oil until the pressure slows or stops.
The relief well will not work. They are drilling 10000 feet below the sea bed where the pressure is very intense and they are trying to pour and cure concrete while the flow is still going. Either the well will blow out other places or the existing casing will spit out the concrete before it cures.
Again the problem is the pressure, the answer is you gently build around the flow not in it.