Image updated 2:15 PDT 6/10/2010
After 52 days of frustrating helplessness, it's nice to see people reach out, pool creative and technical resources, and find a solution that might actually work to plug the damn hole.
Shoq* initiated an effort to brainstorm ideas around ways to redirect the oil rather than stop the flow on June 6th. He was soon joined by Justin Grindal, an engineer who was present during the "top kill" effort last month. They worked together and with others to develop an idea to enclose the well with a wide duct anchored to the sea floor which would corral the oil within and force it up to the surface to be caught by waiting tankers.
It's really as simple as the drawing at the top depicts. Yes, there are specific materials that would have to be obtained, and there is some expertise needed to set the anchors, but it appears to be an elegant solution.
It is the same principle as a chimney. Smoke rises and is directed up and away from your house rather than billowing into your house because of the upward draft created when the flue is opened. Similarly, the idea here is to enclose the oil gush and give it a vented pathway upward and out. Because oil is lighter than water, and because of the force with which it's being spewed out of the well, it will rise on its own.
There are details I've left out of my description for the sake of clarity, but Shoq hasn't. Listen to Nicole Sandler's show yesterday for more on how it works, or read his post (there's a technical design drawing there too).
It has been submitted to BP engineers for review, but there are thousands of ideas in front of them for review, and only a few reviewers. If you know anyone who can get the right set of eyes on this idea, please forward this post to them, or point them toward Shoq's blog.
My first reaction was skepticism and frankly, a little patronizing pat on Shoq's back. This is partly because it was so simple, and partly because of concern that even if it is viable, getting it done would be such a process-laden paperwork-ridden affair that relief wells would be drilled first.
After all, if it's so easy, why isn't it already being done? But every objection I've raised has been answered, and engineers have agreed that it seems like it would work. What we have here is a group of designers, engineers and concerned citizens pooling their creativity and energy into something that might actually succeed. That beats the heck out of feeling helpless.
As Micah Sifry tweeted earlier today:
*Shoq is an industrial designer and software architect who chooses to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.