Sunday, June 6, 2010

How to Fix the Oil Spill

I don't know how to fix an oil spill. At least, not the technological ins and outs of the business.

But I know enough about spills in general to know the following:

1. You turn off the taps.
2. You minimize the damage.
3. You clean up as soon as possible.

Turning off the taps

They say that only BP (and similar deep sea operators) has the expertise to shut down the well. I have no reason to disbelieve this - they are the only ones with the incentive to create the technology to get down there in the first place.

Back in early May BP began drilling relief wells to shut the well down far below sea bottom. Apparently this process, if successful, will take until August. In the meantime, they have held the world breathless as they have attempted to shut the well off where pipe ends and sea begins, to little avail.

I can't say I can fault the approach here.

Minimizing the damage

Here is where my big question mark comes in.

Are buoys, booms, and skimmers so effective? Why is BP conducting a massive chemical experiment [dispersants] in mid-ocean? Why isn't BP trying alternative methods for taking the oil out of the water? And what on earth happened to using microbes to eat the oil?

This last question really bothers me. I see a proven technique which is not being used, for no apparent reason. Toxic dispersants are being used... Nuclear bombing has been suggested... Why not use microbes?

And why is it that the same ineffective tools and strategies used 30 years ago are still used today? No, actually, I think I know this one. $$ There is no money to be had in researching clean-up.

Cleaning up as soon as possible

Again, I can't fault anyone here. As soon as tar made landfall, dedicated workers and volunteers began picking up tar balls and washing off birds. But their work is a hopeless work of Sisyphus unless the oil stops flowing... unless methods are found to collect (or devour) the oil mid-ocean.

- V.

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