Can golf balls save the gulf?
That question hangs in the air here at a BP crisis center as hundreds of engineers and scientists work to cap the undersea well that for more than three weeks has spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Officials with BP and other companies involved in the effort, who discussed the plans in detail at some of the operations rooms, said the best of several options included a “junk shot,” which could be tried within the week. The method involves pumping odds and ends like plastic cubes, knotted rope, even golf balls — Titleists or whatever, BP isn’t saying — into the blowout preventer, the safety device atop the well.
As Rube Goldberg as it sounds, the basic techniques are straightforward and have been used successfully on out-of-control wells around the world. “The problem here is they all have to be executed 5,000 feet under the water,” said Pat Campbell, a well-control expert who is working with BP on the project.
The enormous depth, with its low temperatures and high pressure, greatly complicates planning and execution and could cause the approach to fail, just as earlier stopgap efforts like a large containment dome did not work. One potential problem, the officials said, is the presence of several right-angle turns in the plumbing of the blowout preventer where the objects could become stuck.
The goal of the junk shot is to force-feed the preventer, the device that failed when the disaster unfolded on April 20, until it becomes so plugged that the oil stops flowing or slows to a relative trickle. That would be followed by a “top kill,” the pumping of heavy mud into the well to overcome the pressure of the rising oil, followed in turn by cement that would permanently seal it.
Read more of “‘Junk Shot’ Is Next Step for Leaking Gulf of Mexico Well” Published May 12, 2010 at The New York Times.