Given BP's failures thus far to stop or even stem much of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, taking a fresh look at the spectrum of ideas put forward to halt the ocean floor leak or control its spread makes more and more sense.
Not all fix-the-spill suggestions are as sensible or technologically daring as others. The trick, of course, is quickly finding the best ideas lurking amid the thousands of bizarre, draconian and merely entertaining.
Consider the idea of dropping a nuclear bomb, a scenario rejected for now, on the spewing well a mile beneath the gulf. Or Fox News conservative political commentator Bill O'Reilly's recent suggestion of simply stuffing "every member of NBC News in that hole."
The truth is, the BP gulf oil disaster has inspired true innovators to come forth with some out-of-the-box scenarios to close the oil vent. And it has compelled more than the nation's share of wacky ideas.
It's sorting one from another — to find the right fix — that's so urgent. While energy firms spend billions on new ways to find oil, investing in safety and cleanup technology failed to keep up.
Now BP not only faces the growing wrath of gulf states and the Obama administration, its own shareholders have watched the company's market value drop by some $72 billion since the gulf incident. There's even a growing minority out there speculating that, ultimately, if BP somehow can afford the extraordinary price tag to cover the spill, it won't survive the global damage to its corporate image.
Don't assume the latest scenario, of BP drilling second and third wells to tap the same vein of oil by August, assures a summer end to this record disaster.
"The worst-case scenario is Christmastime," Dan Pickering, research head at energy investor Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston, told Bloomberg News last week. Already there are even worse-than-worst discussions that this leak, possibly, may not be completely shut down and could flow for a decade.
BP last week said more than 20,000 ideas on how to stop the flow of oil or contain the oil spill have been sent to the company since the Gulf of Mexico incident. "These ideas have flooded in from people across the world, ranging from ordinary members of the public to oil industry professionals, and in many languages from Arabic to Russian," the company says.
Stopping the oil leak is a priority. Cleaning up the mess is only slightly less time critical.
One adamant Floridian with an idea is Erasmus Jerry Paradiso of Holiday in Pasco County, who argues that an explosive (but not nuclear) device placed in the well, below the ocean floor, would seal the leak. Paradiso, who says he is a 97-year-old World War II Navy and Air Force veteran, has pitched his idea — complete with hand-drawn illustration — to newspapers, the federal government and BP, among others.
He thinks the lack of response to an explosive solution is because BP wants to preserve the well for future use, even as the leak continues to decimate surrounding gulf waters and coastlines, and oil now hits Florida beaches. Others argue an explosion risks destroying the wellhead so that the flow could never be plugged from the top.
No less intense in believing his unusual idea will work is St. Petersburg's Hubert Caulfield who, at 77, says he has never been an "inside-the-box" thinker. His concept is to build a large cone, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, fill it with a superheavy metal called uranium-235, then guide the narrow portion of the weighted cone over the wellhead and jam it into the 21-inch opening. The extraordinary density and weight of the U-235-filled cone, Caulfield says, would prevent the gushing oil from pushing it aside.
"Everybody's been thinking inside the box," says an angry Caulfield. And what excuses do we hear from BP over and over? "Whoops, then more whoops."
Here's just a small sample of a vast range of other fix-it ideas out there:
• Avatar and Titanic movie director James Cameron said he offered his experience with deep-sea robotics to help BP and the federal government better observe what's happening at the wellhead. He said BP declined the offer.
"Over the last few weeks I've watched, as we all have, with growing horror and heartache, watching what's happening in the gulf and thinking those morons don't know what they're doing," Cameron said last week.
• Here's another idea with some of Florida's best out-of-the-box technology behind it, though it may be that "new, new" thinking that scares BP from considering it. A company called Advanced Magnet Lab in Palm Bay suggests dumping material into the spewing well that can then be magnetized to "stick" to the sides of the well pipe and, like cholesterol slowly clamping off an artery, squeezes the well shut.
The company has teamed with another Florida firm that specializes in maritime emergencies, Resolve Marine Group in Fort Lauderdale. The two companies want BP to see what they can do in a test site off Mobile, Ala., but BP has yet to respond.
• Out of Gainesville, a company called Evolugate already has collected specific Deepwater Horizon oil samples out of the gulf to design an oil-eating microbe that specifically likes that oil mix.
Separately, two firms, Florida's MIHI Advisory Group and Indiana's BioRemediation Inc., sent a team (including BioRemediation vice president Kevin Horton, based out of St. Pete Beach) to Louisiana to demonstrate its "Baad Bugs" products, microbes that digest oil. The team chartered a boat and says it successfully tested the oil digester products on reeds soaked in oil and toxic dispersants.
At first, BP did not respond. But an encouraged Horton on Friday said his team is now submitting followup documents to the BP/U.S. Coast Guard incident command group. The microbe team is helped by support from some of Louisiana's coastal parishes clamoring for aid.
• Similar suggestions to cap the oil spill come from locals Harold Sprague of Clearwater and Frank Newell, who say a thick flexible tube could be inserted over the wellhead. Sprague, noting something as simple in concept as "the flexible line behind a dryer" could be dropped over the well, "clamped tight" and the oil could be sucked up to tankers above. Newell, quoting "Boyle's Law" about gas pressure, says covering the oil riser with a thick tube then flooding the tube with gas would create a bubble. And that, he says, would allow the riser to be filled with concrete with time to dry.
So many budding scientists, inventors and engineers. So little time. This is like judging the World's Most Important Science Fair — with dire consequences if the best ideas do not win quick attention.
BP: Are you even listening?
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]