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It's useful to have geniuses around

stand_back_square_0.pngA neat anecdote from inside the administration's response to the oil spill:

Obama has also called in some of the many scientists on the federal payroll, led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Chu at one point pushed the unusual idea of using gamma rays to peer into the blowout preventer to determine if its valves were closed, a technique he experimented with in graduate school while studying radioactive decay.

The suggestion at first elicited snickering and "Incredible Hulk" jokes. Then they tried it, and it worked. "They weren't hot on his ideas," a senior White House official said of BP's initial reaction to Chu's suggestions. "Now they are."

Graphic credit: XKCD

By Ezra Klein  |  June 7, 2010; 12:08 PM ET
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The initial reaction isn't surprising - engineers generally don't like scientists.

Posted by: Bloix | June 7, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

A similar rupture was successfully stopped by using a small nukular explostion to fuse the rocks into a plug.

Of course, that'll never happen because of the political fallout and that's part of the problem with government and why so many conservatives want small government. They make POLITICAL decisions and not decisions that will accomplish the task.

The nuke will do the job. Government won't use it because of politics.

And about that healthcare...

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | June 7, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

"...a small nukular explostion..."

Nice to hear from an expert.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 7, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

the reason not to use a nuclear device is the high risk of destabilizing the ocean floor and allowing multiple fracture points where oil could escape. and nuclear fallout of the ocean floor.

Posted by: sixman | June 7, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"They weren't hot on his ideas..."

Well, it's reassuring to know that during a major energy crisis, the Energy Secretary was not being taken seriously.

Posted by: mattslavick | June 7, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I'd be hesitant to use a nuclear bomb to stop an oil leak (in the gulf!). Can't say that I blame them. I think a little trepidation about using nuclear bombs to solve problems is probably a good thing. It might be the best thing for it, but it's not exactly a frequently tried solution with a long history of analysis regarding the long term consequences.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 7, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

It seems like people advocating the nucleur bomb idea don't understand that some problems involve creative, subtle solutions. "Just bomb the damn thing" has not been a successful approach to pretty much anything, has it?

Posted by: Quant | June 7, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

What is going on in Gulf of Mexico is horrible, Some photos make you sick of this oil spill. What are they still doing? I received an email from a friend that if you are affected from the oil spill and would like to claim compensation from oil spill claim center, here is the place please forward this to your friends and family affected by this oil spill.

Posted by: talbertjo13 | June 7, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

That's a great start, but while Chu and the WH are patting themselves on the back another 20,000 barrels of raw crude oil just poisoned the Gulf of Mexico.

Our government isn't responding forcefully enough. The President isn't doing enough.

Blow it up with torpedos. Dump 50 barges of bricks and mortar on it. Plug the hole with Hayward's arm. DO SOMETHING.

The way that these leaders have responded is disgraceful and very very sad.

Posted by: Paul_Frank | June 7, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Paul_Frank, I know it's frustrating that it hasn't been solved yet, but I just haven't seen any evidence that either BP or the WH aren't trying hard enough to stop it. We may decide that either BP or the WH, or maybe, yes, even the previous Administration didn't do enough before the spill to prevent it, and maybe we'll decide that all of them deserve some amount of blame. Still, it's not like what they should be doing is brainstorming onto a white board and then immdiately acting on all of the ideas they think of. They've got to evaluate whether any particular plan will actually help or if it will be ineffective, or if it will actually make things worse. As Quant pointed out, it seems like the people advocating for a nuclear bomb solution aren't really thinking about the possible consequences of such a course of action, or if they've really evaluated it, they aren't incorporating that into their arguments. This is a technical problem, not, as far as I can tell, a lack of will.

Posted by: MosBen | June 7, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Agree with MosBen. BP's own bottomless well of corporate greed is the strongest motivator for them to stop the flow at the earliest possible date, in order to mitigate the bill that is coming due thanks to their negligence.

The Obama Administration should put nearly all of its focus on defending the shoreline and wildlife to the maximum extent possible, and on re-evaluating future policy with respect to energy in general and offshore drilling in particular.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 7, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Nobel Prizes don't count in Real America (tm).

Posted by: stevie314 | June 7, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Do the bargain-bin Dr. Strangeloves realize that the Soviets used neither nuclear nor "nukular" weapons to seal a leak under a mile of water? IIRC the leaks in question weren't even in shallow water.

Posted by: WarrenTerra | June 7, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Ever since they tried to give Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, I've had serious doubts as to the validity of any of those prizes.

Its like being a Harvard grad today... plenty of people will respect you for its institutional reputation, but plenty will wonder if you were one of the ones whose daddy bribed your way through the degree.

Posted by: akusu | June 7, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Stopping or significantly slowing the flow is easy.

Fabricate a giant pair of robotic vice grips, and crimp and clamp the end of the riser pipe so as to restrict the output.

It would be simple to modify the "jaws of life" shears (that they recently used to cut the riser pipe) to crimp the pipe closed instead.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 7, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Funny the people that don't want the government doing anything ever suddenly want the government to invent a deep sea nuclear weapon so we can be more like the former Soviet Union. Logic and reason are not high on the list in this country, propaganda to the contrary.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | June 7, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

@Lomillialor, the differential pressure between the well head and the oil bed is too great. To the extent that it does close the well head, it would cause a blow out elsewhere in the pipe. Same reason why they haven't closed all the vents on the latest cap.

Posted by: chassmith1066 | June 7, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

chassmith, it's hardly worth bothering. Lomillialor's considered position apparently is that a worldwide body of experts and kibbitzers has up to this point failed to consider what is practically the most obvious, indeed cartoonish, suggestion for a solution, one that would occur to a six-year-old. The idea that better-informed people were aware of reasons that Lomillialor's suggestion wasn't a good one apparently didn't occur to Lomillialor.

Posted by: WarrenTerra | June 7, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

"Just nuke the thing!"


The example nuke-agitators like to use was about as different from the current disaster as possible. It almost certainly wouldn't work in this case, would almost certainly spew radioactive material into the already-oily water regardless of whether or not it worked, and would *definitely* violate several nuke-treaties the U.S. has signed onto. And that's completely separate from the fact that they misrepresent their example quite badly; it didn't actually happen the way they keep claiming it did.

Posted by: edta | June 7, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

When people start talking about blowing stuff up to solve a problem my mind inevitably wanders back to this:

Still one of the best videos on the web.

Posted by: catbirdman1 | June 7, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

To anyone who has read this far: go back and re-read what WarrenTerra said.

Posted by: rmgregory | June 7, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

What Bloix said.

Posted by: disputo | June 7, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

catbirdman- that was really 1970???!!! I remember that, good post!

Posted by: JoePantes | June 7, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

If Bush was president...
1) Halliburton would have been given a big, fat gov't contract to stop the leak they very likely helped cause.
2) WH press flunkies would have helped BP minimize the publicly-stated flow rate of the gusher; talked up the benefits of spewing crude oil into the ocean; blamed environmentalists for it; and questioned the patriotism of anyone who dared to question their propaganda and complained about the devastating effects of the spill.
3) BP would have been given a big, fat tax cut.
4) instead of consulting scientists and experts, Bush would have asked Americans to pray to Jeebus to stop the gusher.

Posted by: firenze_italia | June 7, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

It must be tough for Republicans to criticize Obama for "not doing enough". After all, "small government" is allegedly what they love, and Obama is taking a "small government" approach - namely, letting BP do whatever they want to do.

Obama's major fault thus far has been his insistence on continuing to defer to BP's "expertise". Even Reagan, when faced with a similar problem (the Challenger explosion), had the independence of mind to bring in real experts (in that case, Richard Feynman, who was the one who had the intellectual heft to blast through the lines of defense that contractors will always put up).

BP has little real financial incentive to fix the problem. Or at least, that's what they think. They have a cap on damages that was passed weeks ago. And they care far more about a) PR, b) avoiding blame than they do about bringing in outsiders who will expose their ignorance.

Posted by: rick_desper | June 8, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

I think the reason they won't nuke the seafloor is because there is a munitions dump site just to the south of the leak. Imagine all the dumped munitions being touched off by the nuke, and ripping a huge hole in the seafloor just over millions of barrels of oil.

Posted by: SBGYPSY | June 8, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

The first time I saw a really good underwater picture of what was going on with the BP oil spill I was shocked and amazed. There is actually a bolted flange available (apparently connecting the "christmas tree" of valves to the riser pipe). Why can't BP unbolt the damaged riser pipe at the flange, then bolt a new value on top of the undamaged flange (with the valve open). Then, once the valve is in bolted place, use the ROV to shut the valve off. The new valve would have to be lowered into place with a cable from the surface because of the weight, then guided into place with the ROVs. I suspect this is the same procedure they use to build the christmas tree anyway.

If no valve can be found that will bolt directly to this exposed flange, then an adapter could be fabricated to adapt an appropriate valve to the flange.

Another approach would be to go futher down the christmas tree and unbolt, then replace, the defective blowout prevention valve. In this case, no special fabrication would be needed. Just unbolt the defective valve and bolt on a new one (one that works of course).

I don't buy into the pressure arguments about blowout if oil flow is completely shutoff. The valves are designed to hold the pressure when the valves are shut off, and so are the pipes. The oil flow should be able to be completely shutoff without bursting the pipes. Certainly this is the purpose of the blowout preventer valves.

All of these attempts of containment vessels and caps seem totally misguided. It appears to me that BP is more interested in capturing the oil instead of stopping it.

Posted by: gahelton1 | June 12, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

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