The usual apologies up front…never did a story before, don’t know if it’s suitable for the Planet, etc. If I’m all wet, I’m sure somebody will let me know.
I’ve been following the Gulf Geyser story as intently as possible for an elderly, nonscientific, English Lit major. One of the best resources I’ve found is www.theoildrum.com. Don’t be put off by the seemingly high-tech, insider aspects of the site. There’s plenty information that we “normal” people can understand, and it’s easy to skip the hardcore comments and still follow the substance of the discussion.
The following is one of the best analogies I’ve read for what’s going on in the gusher and what BP’s attempts to fix it amount to. I’m quoting here in full because it appears in a long comments thread and is hard to find. You can read the entire article and all the comments by going to http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6464. This particular one is by HighTension, 4:49 pm. May 14.
As a lay person, I’ve been thinking about how to understand this situation using everyday experiences. It involves capture of a mixed liquid and gas stream underwater. The only jets of mixed liquids and gases most of experience are opening beers and sodas that have been shaken up. Perhaps such everyday experience can serve as a simple model.
This is not to make light of this situation. It is heartbreaking in many ways. But, most of us don’t have experience with mixed pressurized liquids and gases, except for beer and soda.
Imagine you have an ice-cold (just above freezing point) beer bottle with a built-in 1/4″ straw that passes through the cap. The straw is sealed in two places: (1) just where it passes through the cap and (2) at the end of the straw. Shake the beer. Then gouge two holes in the straw some distance from each other big enough to allow a substantial amount of beer to spill out. A mix of beer, gas, and ice will blast out of the two holes.
Your goal is to either stop the beer from flowing out or collect the beer in your glass. But there are a number of conditions: (1) the beer bottle and all your tools are at the bottom of your pool; (2) you and your beer glass are floating in a pool chair and you are manipulating things at the bottom of the pool with very long chopsticks and exacto knives; (3) the built in straw is loose, so there is a risk of it popping out if it is manhandled, allowing much more beer to blast into the pool; and (4) all of the things you use to accomplish these tasks are cold enough to allow beer to freeze on them.
First idea: Collect the fizzing and jetting beer with a funnel and transport it through a straw to your glass. In theory, the rising bubbles will carry the beer to the top of the pool and into your glass. If one puts a metal funnel that narrows to 1/4″ over the underwater beer jet, the fizzing gas, water turbulence, and/or formation of ice in the funnel will mean that the leak will likely back up in the funnel and flow over the edge of the funnel and into the pool. Very little beer will pass through the funnel and ice will ultimately block the funnel. Is this roughly what happened with the BP dome? If memory serves, the dome had roughly the same size outlet as the diameter of the ruptured drill pipe and is even smaller than the riser pipe. Do the same thing with a bigger funnel with a 1/2″ outlet and more beer will be captured, but it will be watered down. Seems like the way to make this work is to have an outlet pipe big enough to capture the turbulent flow and expanding gas while at the same time warming the dome and expecting to separate beer from water. I have no idea if existing offshore piping is big enough or strong enough to do this job.
Second idea: Collect the fizzing and jetting beer with a smaller funnel. Less ice formation and perhaps less water gets sucked up, but I don’t see how this deals with turbulence so the beer would nonetheless back up in the funnel. I understand this to be analogous to the top hat idea.
Third idea: pump chunks of stuff (lime rind) to the bottom of the pool and inject it into the broken seal at the beer cap to try to clog it up so beer doesn’t flow into the straw. Whether this works would seem to depend on the force of the jetting beer, the nature of the clogging stuff, and whether there is sufficient purchase in the broken seal for the clog to stick.
Fourth idea: Cut the straw off evenly upstream of the hole and stick a cap over it. Whether this works would seem to depend on whether the cap can be forced over the straw and be made to stay in place. The jetting beer would seem to make placement of the cap difficult. Ever tried to attach a sprinkler on a flowing garden hose? Also, what about the second leak? Do you cut the straw upstream of both the leaks? Does this cutting risk having the straw pop out? Is the straw strong enough to take the pressure or might it rupture somewhere else?
Seems like BP faces a situation where it may be able to stop the spill in the near term only if it first cuts the riser off entirely upstream of both leaks, but this would increase flows for awhile and may risk creation of a new leak closer to the BOP or catastrophic failure. BP may be avoiding such action because if it doesn’t work, it’s liability could increase substantially. But if it doesn’t slow flows until the relief well is drilled, it liability may be astronomical anyway. It’s hard to see how the spill is stopped in the near term without making a clean purchase for a cap of some sort either on the riser or BOP. If the cut is in the weakened riser, then the cap may need to be connected to an outlet pipe to let the oil flow out to keep pressures lower so the riser does not burst. If the riser is cut away from the BOP so a valve can be attached to the top of the BOP, the issue becomes one of whether it is possible to use existing bolts or whether the BOP would need to be encased in something to which a valve can be attached. Success would seem to depend on the extent of damage to the BOP and whether the restriction in flow comes primarily from the BOP or crimps in the riser. In any case, a new valve could be kept open until it is firmly secured.
BP may be in a position where it must take greater risks than it is currently willing to assume to avoid ever increasing liability.
Another source of articles/comments on attempts to manage the effects of the oil volcano is www.dailykos.com. Diaries by Fishgrease are horrifyingly amusing and enlightening. Among other things, he is basically saying–in extraordinarily colorful language–that the way BP and the Coast Guard are deploying booms is completely ineffectual, and that there’s a better way to do it (no, not those old used hair shirts that don’t fit any more).
Booming School: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/11/11558/1890. Part of it says this:
1. The booming is being run by a company that concentrates on drilling and booming is for pussies. Production employees were not invited because they would just cause trouble. This is a drilling operation so just fuck off.
2. There’s not enough boom, rope nor anchor on this planet to properly boom the Northern Gulf of Mexico. There should be! It’s not that much an expense! Really! It’s not! They said they were ready! Having enough materials to perform fucking proper fucking booming, IS part of being ready! THEY’RE NOT READY! ARE THEY?
3. Governors, Senators, Presidents and most of all the Piece-Of-Shit-C*nt Media don’t know what fucking proper fucking booming LOOKS LIKE! So you can just lay a single line of neon-glo-orange boom out parallel to the shore, for miles, with anchor points every quarter-mile to where a good part of it washes up onto the shore like a huge, dead, orange nightcrawler… and they won’t know the difference! Where it manages to stay off the bank, a little two-foot chop you would let your kids frolic in will send all the oil either over or under it! ALL THE OIL! ON THE SHORE! IN THE REEDS! ON THE BEACH! IN THE NESTS! OIL! So what! It’s not gonna make CNN send a single correspondent to booming school, is it?
See also Booming School II: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/14/31041/9176, which contains some lively opinionating about what Booby Jindal might accomplish with his effort to keep the oil off the Louisiana coast with berms, and about what Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen might most usefully do with himself.
Bottom line for me = taking refuge in the little fact-based reality I can get my mind around on this ecological, financial, political, moral disaster. I was going to post this video on last night’s summer music thread, but felt it might have been a downer. So here it is, dedicated especially to the folks in Louisiana (those not pimping for BP).