Alternate solutions suggested for stemming oil in Gulf of Mexico

Distinguished academic professor and fellow of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, Professor Carl Ross, has for the last few weeks been issuing a stream of reports and suggestions on how BP has been and should be tackling the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

His latest suggestion is to make use of the natural tendency of methane and water to combine to form natural methane hydrate ice, which was the cause of the failure of the first attempt to catch the gushing oil and gas in an underwater funnel.

Prof Ross writes: "A different 'Top kill' method may be able to be successfully used to block the leak, if different 'fluid' materials were to be used. For example, two separate pipes could be used, where one pipe contains water under high pressure and the other pipe contains a natural gas under high pressure; the latter pipe to be well in front of the pipe containing the water. As the natural gas is not in contact with water, gas hydrates (ice) will not form when the natural gas escapes into the well; but when the natural gas is driven back by the well's oil pressure, so that it comes into contact with the water under high pressure, gas hydrates (ice) will form; which may block up the well. The process need not be started until the two pipes are situated deep into the well. Once the process is started, the two pipes can be gradually withdrawn, so that the pipe containing the water is not blocked by gas hydrates (ice), as it is not as deep into the oil well as the pipe containing the natural gas."

Prior to this idea, he suggested catching the issuing oil using the modified, capsized hull of a derelict cargo ship – there are more than a few available - to capture issuing oil as it came up to the surface, since oil and gas are both lighter than water. And long before the disaster occurred, he suggested that oil companies should prepare for something like this happening, by having a large fabric membrane that could be deployed in such a way as to catch rising oil and gas in the event of a sub-sea blowout, with means to pump out the oil and gas accumulating at the apex. He has also suggested that this might be a good way of catching methane released by deliberately mining some of the methane hydrate ices that cover large areas of the ocean bed and constitute a vast fossil fuel resource.

Readers are invited to submit their comments and solutions below.

To view a live video feed of the BP Oil Spill from the ocean floor, 5000 feet below the surface, click here.

Tom Shelley

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