Oil spill latest: A nuke to stop the Gulf oil spill


Post5After several failed attempts to stop the spilling crude oil entering the Gulf of Mexico, BP may utilize a technique adopted in the former Soviet Union to seal unruly oil wells. The method? To detonate a nuclear bomb a mile or so into the Earth’s crust to stem the flow.

It sounds like a last ditch solution, and that’s because it is. Currently, the rainbow sheen of oil in the Gulf of Mexico now covers an area bigger than the size of Washington state, around 75,000 square miles, and covers roughly 30 percent of the Gulf of Mexico. Early estimates from BP calculated the crude gushing at around 1,000 barrels a day, yet, depending on which estimate you read, it ranges from 5,000 barrels to 80,000 barrels, although more likely estimates hover around 17,000 barrels (714,000 gallons) a day.

BP has bumbled its way through the last 42 days, attempting several reactionary methods to try and contain the spill, and despite some success jamming an undersized RITT into the crippled riser pipe and extracting a fraction of the leaking oil, has so far been unable to stem the flow.

What has become evident is that drilling at such depths – as deep as the continental slope – leaves little room for error, and as those witnessing the continued calamity of stopping the leak at source can attest, it makes stemming crippled riser pipes and wells all the more challenging.

After failed attempts with robotic submarines, 100-ton domes and the RITT, BP attempted the ‘Top Kill’ method, essentially blasting mud and joining agents through a manifold and into the blowout preventer, and down the drill pipe. This is then supplemented with a layer of concrete to seal the well. Tony Hayward gave ‘Top Kill’ a 60 to 70 percent chance of working, and after showing early promise, failed to stop the leak.

Russia suggests nuking the oil well

A few weeks ago, Russian periodical Prevda raised the possibility of a nuke to cripple the BP well, after the Soviet Union had implemented five successful* Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE) attempts in the past. This issue was raised as a serious contender again in an interview with Matthew Simmons on Bloomberg this week, making it a very real possibility.

Within the old Soviet Union, a nuclear device was first used to close a well in Uzbekistan in 1966, clocking a blast 1.5 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb about a mile under the surface. Despite being an offshore well, the current well is also approximately a mile under the surface, which may encourage the decision makers.

However, detonating a nuclear bomb could encourage more catastrophe, and all five of the Soviet detonations were used on wells on dry land, not offshore, where the atmospheric pressure is that much greater.

“The Soviet experience with nuking underground gas wells could prove easier in retrospect than trying to seal the Gulf of Mexico’s oil well disaster that’s taking place 5,000 feet below the surface. The Russians were using nukes to extinguish gas well fires in natural gas fields, not sealing oil wells gushing liquid,” the Christian Science Monitor has suggested in ‘Why don’t we just drop a nuclear bomb on the Gulf oil spill?’

After several failed attempts to stop the spilling crude oil entering the Gulf of Mexico, BP may utilize a technique adopted in the former Soviet Union to seal unruly oil wells. The method? To detonate a nuclear bomb a mile or so into the Earth’s crust to stem the flow.

It sounds like a last ditch solution, and that’s because it is. Currently, the rainbow sheen of oil in the Gulf of Mexico now covers an area bigger than the size of Washington state, around 75,000 square miles, and covers roughly 30 percent of the Gulf of Mexico. Early estimates from BP calculated the crude gushing at around 1,000 barrels a day, yet, depending on which estimate you read, it ranges from 5,000 barrels to 80,000 barrels, although more likely estimates hover around 17,000 barrels (714,000 gallons) a day.

BP has bumbled its way through the last 42 days, attempting several reactionary methods to try and contain the spill, and despite some success jamming an undersized RITT into the crippled riser pipe and extracting a fraction of the leaking oil, has so far been unable to stem the flow.

What has become evident is that drilling at such depths – as deep as the continental slope – leaves little room for error, and as those witnessing the continued calamity of stopping the leak at source can attest, it makes stemming crippled riser pipes and wells all the more challenging.

After failed attempts with robotic submarines, 100-ton domes and the RITT, BP attempted the ‘Top Kill’ method, essentially blasting mud and joining agents through a manifold and into the blowout preventer, and down the drill pipe. This is then supplemented with a layer of concrete to seal the well. Tony Hayward gave ‘Top Kill’ a 60 to 70 percent chance of working, and after showing early promise, failed to stop the leak.

Russia suggests nuking the oil well

A few weeks ago, Russian periodical Prevda raised the possibility of a nuke to cripple the BP well, after the Soviet Union had implemented five successful* Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE) attempts in the past. This issue was raised as a serious contender again in an interview with Matthew Simmons on Bloomberg this week, making it a very real possibility.

Within the old Soviet Union, a nuclear device was first used to close a well in Uzbekistan in 1966, clocking a blast 1.5 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb about a mile under the surface. Despite being an offshore well, the current well is also approximately a mile under the surface, which may encourage the decision makers.

However, detonating a nuclear bomb could encourage more catastrophe, and all five of the Soviet detonations were used on wells on dry land, not offshore, where the atmospheric pressure is that much greater.

“The Soviet experience with nuking underground gas wells could prove easier in retrospect than trying to seal the Gulf of Mexico’s oil well disaster that’s taking place 5,000 feet below the surface. The Russians were using nukes to extinguish gas well fires in natural gas fields, not sealing oil wells gushing liquid,” the Christian Science Monitor has suggested in ‘Why don’t we just drop a nuclear bomb on the Gulf oil spill?’

Urgency from the Obama administration

President Barack Obama is feeling the heat from all sides, and may be forced to intervene; he has already sent nuclear physicists to access the situation – One of the five man team includes 82-year-old Richard Garwin, who designed the first hydrogen bomb.

Said President Obama: “The potential devastation to the Gulf Coast, its economy and its people require us to continue our relentless efforts to stop the leak.”

What relentless really means, we’ll find out in due course. One thing is for sure, if BP’s efforts to stem the leak fail, then the Obama administration may be forced into doing something seemingly unbelievable when the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire 42 days ago.

*Defining the success of a nuclear explosion is like defining the winner of a war: There might be overall victory, but with casualties and dire consequences. In this instance, its taking into account the cost of radiation to the environment etc, however of the five oil wells subjected to a nuclear explosion, four were sealed.

Tomorrow NG Oil & Gas will be assessing the size of the warhead necessary to seal the well and look at the possible worst case scenarios with detonating a nuclear warhead less than 100 miles from American land.