How to contain an Offshore Oil Leak

An offshore oil spill is devastating to sea life, vegetation and can spread quickly out to sea or further inland and to shore.  The spill contaminates the entire fragile ecosystem.  There are several options that may used to contain an offshore oil spill to try to prevent a major environmental catastrophe.   The very first thing that should be done when there is an explosion of an oil rig and/or an spill is to immediately use the Blowout Preventer (BOP) that is a safety mechanism found on all modern drilling rigs.  The BOP uses a series of valves and tanks to stop and relieve the pressure below the drilling rig and thereby shutting off the leak or spill.  Crews are trained to perform the shut off process but during the current Gulf of Mexico spill, the crew did not do it.  Eleven crew members were killed by the explosion, but there also is a dead man’s switch and another emergency option that activates the BOP via acoustic signals that are supposed to work remotely; however, for whatever reason, it was not installed for this drilling rig.  Investigators have a lot to review and research to determine why the Gulf explosion and spill occurred.  With the mechanisms in place, the current leak should never have happened.

Another option to contain an offshore oil spill is to use chemical dispersants that are released under water and close to the breaks, along with using floating booms to contain the surface slick that will block the surface spill from spreading.   In addition, since the BOP did not function properly to shut down the pipes, British Petroleum is attempting another option which is to use remote controlled submarines down to the drilling site in an effort to shutoff the BOP’s valves via robotic arms attached to the subs.  So far, the subs with robotic arms have failed to do the job.

There is an option that actually places “a lid” over the pipes and stops the spill from spreading into the sea.  Currently for the Gulf spill Louisiana workers are finalizing the use of a 125 ton, 40 foot high chamber that will be lowered down on top of the largest spill source.  Then they will use a 5,000 pipe line that diverts the spill to a tanker that will carry the oil collected to a safe storage place.

A last option is to use another drilling rig to drill at an angle into the oil-bearing fissure that was originally tapped by the leaking well.  If the relief well can hit the fissure in the correct place or point, they can pump down mud and concrete to plug the lead.  However, it could take 2 or 3 months for the relief well to work.  These are the basic options that may be used to contain a massive offshore oil spill; however, none of these is a “for sure” fix.  We can only hope that one or all of the options will work effectively to stop and contain the oil spill.