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Seriously, Bomb That Noise

June 22, 2010
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Christopher Brownfield has reiterated his support for blowing up the Deepwater Horizon oil well in order to stop the Gulf leak in The New York Times.  This time, however, Brownfield advocates for exterminating the well with conventional explosives, presumably because the nuclear option is not on the table (he had previously been a supporter of nuking the well, an operation I was on board with).  Here’s what his plan is:

To allay any concerns over militarizing the crisis, the Navy and Coast Guard should be placed in a task-force structure alongside a corps of experts, including independent oil engineers, drilling experts with dedicated equipment, geologists, energy analysts and environmentalists, who could provide pragmatic options for emergency action.

With this new structure in place, the Navy could focus on stopping the leak with a conventional demolition. This means more than simply “blowing it up”: it means drilling a hole parallel to the leaking well and lowering charges to form an explosive column.

Upon detonating several tons of explosives, a pressure wave of hundreds of thousands of pounds per square inch would spread outward in the same way that light spreads from a tubular fluorescent bulb, evenly and far. Such a sidelong explosion would implode the oil well upstream of the leak by crushing it under a layer of impermeable rock, much as stepping on a garden hose stops the stream of water.

It’s true that the primary blast of a conventional explosion is less effective underwater than on land because of the intense back-pressure that muffles the shock wave. But as a submariner who studied the detonation of torpedoes, I learned that an underwater explosion also creates rapid follow-on shockwaves. In this case, the expansion and collapse of explosive gases inside the hole would act like a hydraulic jackhammer, further pulverizing the rock.

My opinion?  Upon further review, I’m still on board.  Unless, you know, there’s another option:

Hayward told the panel that the best remaining hope of “killing” the gushing monster known as Macondo lies in a pair of relief wells that are driving toward the base of the runaway well. That effort, which is ahead of schedule, is expected to stop the oil flow in August. Meanwhile, BP has improvised a system that is capturing 840,000 gallons of oil each day. By June 30, that daily figure is expected to rise to between 1.7 million and 2.1 million gallons and rise again toward 3.4 million gallons by mid-July.

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