Seafloor Nuclear Detonation to Plug Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill *OR* How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let the Bomb Solve All My Problems

Is this what James Cameron has wrought?

When I heard that a Hollywood director was consulting with BP and the US government on outside-the-box solutions to the Gulf Coast oil spill and how to plug that damn well I knew we’d entered the Twilight Zone. (Now, Cameron does have legitimate underwater cred from his underwater film work on The Abyss and Titanic–both the movie and the later documentaries he produced–but still…)

But confirmation that we’d crossed over into the Bizarro world came today with The New York Times reporting that nuclear detonations are being advocated by some “armchair engineers” (but not Cameron, at least so far) as a means to seal the oil spill.

The theory behind this “plan” (and I use the ironic quotes advisedly) is that the extreme heat an exploding atom bomb generates–temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun–when detonated under the sea floor can turn acres of porous rock into a glassy plug, much like a huge stopper in a leaky bottle.

Decades ago, the Soviet Union reportedly used nuclear blasts to successfully seal off runaway gas wells, inserting a bomb deep underground and letting its fiery heat melt the surrounding rock to shut off the flow.

The plan is being backed by “all the best scientists”, according to the blissfully, ignorantly optimistic Matt Simmons, a Houston energy expert and investment banker, who filled Bloomberg News in on his plan last Friday.

The only scientist who likes this idea is this guy:

Could you imagine pitching this idea to Obama?

Obama: Is this plan really a workable option, folks?
Strangelove: It would not be difficult Mein Fuhrer! Nuclear weapons could, heh…I’m sorry–Mr. President…

With the failure of the so-called “top kill” effort to plug the leak with mud, BP has moved on to a plan that involves cutting and removing a damaged part of the crippled Deepwater Horizon drill rig (which will temporarily increase the flow from the leak by 20 PERCENT!) and putting a cap over the cleanly cut pipe. Has anyone wondered what happens if they cut the pipe and can’t then get the jimmy hat on? We have a 20% bigger problem…

This is all an effort to stop the leak temporarily while BP drills relief wells which will siphon off the oil and stop the leak, but such a plan won’t be in place until August and presents its own problems.

The drilling of those relief wells creates a whole new set of worries, including unintended fractures that would create additional leaks.

“If the rock formation that holds the oil has been cracked or compromised in any way, that pressure is going to find another way to get out,” said one official. “And if it comes up through a crack or a seam, it could come up anywhere. And that’s what they are trying to avoid.”

What frightens me most is that the oil industry cares so little about the possibility of emergency situations that there is no contingency plan for these kinds of catastrophes. Every time one of the BP stooges steps in front of a microphone to explain what the next attempt will be to staunch the flow they always include the caveat that none of what they’re proposing has ever been tried in 5000 feet of water and has a limited possibility of success.

So perhaps you shouldn’t drill somewhere you can’t fix the problems you might create. And really, BP’s every solution has sounded downright laughable: pumping heavy mud into the pipe in hopes of sealing it? Something called a ‘junk shot’–which I even heard one spokesman say was “far more hi-tech than it sounds”… Really? Because it just sounds like your going to try and cram shit down the pipe in the hopes you might block the tube. (And when the process was described that’s pretty much what the “plan” consisted of).

How was this kind of problem never foreseen and planned for? What scares me is that it probably was foreseen and planning for it would simply have cost too much money so it was ignored, assuming (as these companies always seem to) that it would never happen anyway…

Hoping everything just goes well all the time (pardon the pun) is called ‘hubris’. And you know what the gods do to those who suffer from hubris, don’t you?

Buggered. Every time.

I sincerely hope that the process of sealing this well (which has apparently already cost BP more than $1 billion), the hit that BP stock will continue to take because of this tragedy, and the combined costs of the civil and criminal liability they will face drive this corporation into bankruptcy. Only then, in the face of a similar fate should one of their drilling projects have a catastrophic incident, will others in the petroleum industry take seriously the need to plan ahead for contingencies, anticipate worst-case scenarios, and actually be prepared to take responsibility for their corporate actions.

– S.

9 thoughts on “Seafloor Nuclear Detonation to Plug Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill *OR* How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let the Bomb Solve All My Problems

  1. Suddenly, the internet is full of experts who are qualified to criticize the *employed* experts. Very, very tiresome, predictable, self-righteous, arrogant and ignorant.

    You’re the kind of people who stand at the edge of a yard where a house is burning down. When the house is completely gone, you mock the fireman for trying to save it with *water*!

    Also great to see you wishing for the collapse of a company that pays more taxes than all of Canada put together, while employing untold hundreds of thousands.

    What’s your training in this area? Your experiemce? Your resume? That’s what I thought. Stick to what you know, if anything.

  2. Hi Anonymous –

    Thanks for your comments, though I do wish you’d stand behind them and use your name when you post. I hope you’ll post here more often.

    First, I never attempted to portray myself as an expert on leaky deep-sea oil well plugging. I’m merely commenting as someone concerned that we not exacerbate an already terrible situation through an insane and cockamamie plan to use nuclear weapons. I’d like to think that’s a fairly rational, mainstream standpoint.

    As for my qualifications to speak on the subject generally: well, I have a Masters degree in the history of science, so I understand something of the technical aspects of what’s being proposed. And I believe that history can and does have much to offer us in the way of wisdom about the world as it was, is, and (more importantly) as it might be. I also spend a lot of time writing science fiction, so I suppose that makes me something of a professional extrapolator and speculator on what might happen, and particularly on unintended consequences. Science fiction isn’t about predicting the future; in large measure it’s about preventing it.

    I also think that just being a concerned human being is status enough to comment on the tragedy at hand. Those in charge, the “employed experts” you mention, seem at a loss to offer anything in the way of meaningful solutions (heavy drilling mud, junk shots, saw blades that jam, etc.)

    As for your assertion that BP “pays more taxes than all of Canada put together”–well, that’s hyperbole at best, just plain wrong at worst. But let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and go with hyperbole in aid of your argument.

    And the analogy of fire and water hardly stands: water seldom makes a fire worse, whereas a thermonuclear detonation, even if it succeeded in sealing the oil leak, would make the situation worse by orders of magnitude. Radiation is a lingering legacy…

    But your point about my wish that BP be thrown out of business by this affair, thereby throwing out of work “untold hundreds of thousands” is a fair one, and I want you to know that I considered that outcome (ah, there’s that professional speculating again) before I wrote those sentences.

    If BP does go under they will not simply disappear: their assets will be sold off, staff will receive severance or job offer from competing firms or those that snap up BP’s remains… People will lose their jobs. Lives will be affected, certainly, and doubtless with sometimes very negative consequences. I don’t take that lightly when I write about it.

    But we cannot continue to foster a business culture (particularly in heavily polluting industries like fossil fuels) where actions that negatively affect the daily lives and livelihoods of millions bear little or no consequence for the corporations and individuals who cause them.

    Think of those “untold hundreds of thousands” on the Gulf Coast, in Florida, and along the coastline of anywhere the Gulf Stream will take that oil who already suffer and will continue to suffer not only economically but physically through the contamination of their environment, their food and water sources, etc. Are we to prefer the well-being of BP employees who live far, far from the site of contamination over those who have to stay and live in the affected region?

    While I have no wish to see the majority of the ‘little guys’ who work for BP suffer because of the actions and failed responses of their bosses, I think that the only way the bosses of all those other companies will get the message that things need to change is if BP goes under. They have to think: “That could happen to me and my company.”

    What scares me is that even that might not be enough to force change.

    – S.

  3. Hi again Anonymous –

    Thanks for your latest comment. Unfortunately, you again chose not to include your name. I’d really like to continue this conversation, but I think it’s only fair that we do so using our names, don’t you?

    After all, you now know something about me, yet haven’t done me the courtesy of letting me know something about you.

    Please post under your name and I’ll be happy to post your last comment and continue our debate.

    Best wishes,


  4. Several months after the breach, they can’t find any more oil and the leak is plugged. For this, you were advocating that God (or someone of equal authority) close down the entire BP enterprise.

    As it stands, you look like a mule-riding, petrophobic, Earth-worshipping Druid with an 7th-grade education. Be a man and issue an apology for the tunnel-viewed, envirotheistic panic and over-reaction.

  5. Isn’t it time to write a new blog entry where you apologize for being such a goddamned fascist idiot in this post?

  6. Still not apologizing for your tantrum in a teapot? Big surprise. One consistent characteristic of failed writers is that they never admit their mistakes, whether serious (like this one) or trivial.

  7. Hi, my name is Anonymous and I’d just like to say that this LaCourt is giving all of us anonymous blog commentators a bad rap. I have never seen someone more inarticulately dedicated to saying absolutely nothing of value. Everything this character typed out runs counter to the very notion of a dialogue. You may want to avoid ad hominem attacks, Stephen, but you give this joker far too much credit (even while I appreciate the way your response pokes holes in everything this dimwitted person has typed), quite frankly I am amazed they have survived long enough to learn how to construct a sentence let alone operate the internet.

  8. Haha! Thank you Second Anonymous. And I agree: he IS giving anonymous posters everywhere a bad name. Never fear! My posts will always be open to anonymous posters. I figure the wingnuts will out themselves 🙂

    – S.

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