9 Ways to Fix a Catastrophic Oil Spill

The ideas just keep getting weirder

This article is from the archive of our partner .

If necessity is the mother of invention, then the still-flowing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ought to be an unfortunate boon to creativity. In fact, the tragic spill has inspired so many potential "fixes" it's hard to keep track of them all. Here's an overview of the various prospective engineering solutions floated over the last two weeks:

  • The Chemical Dispersant  As the Telegraph explains: "Approximately 325,000 gallons of dispersant have been deployed so far in BP's effort to break up the spreading oil slick before it hits the fragile Gulf coast, and over 500,000 gallons more are available. But the effects it will have on marine life, the shoreline and people spraying the chemicals are largely a mystery - an issue raising concerns in itself."
  • The Failed Containment Box  The AP writes: "It had taken about two weeks to build the box and three days to cart the containment box 50 miles out and slowly lower it to the well a mile below the surface, but the frozen depths were just too much... A day after icelike crystals clogged a four-story box that workers had lowered atop the main leak, crews using remote-controlled submarines hauled the specially built structure more than a quarter-mile away and prepared other long-shot methods of stopping the flow."

  • Enter the Robots

  • The Less Giant Containment Box  Big Think explains: The Top Hat is a slightly smaller version of 100-ton steel and concrete box BP tried to lower onto the ruined, gushing wellhead. Unfortunately, buoyant methane crystals formed inside the box, preventing it from settling on the seabed.

  • The Pipe Cutter  The AP again: "The company was also now debating whether it should cut the riser pipe undersea and use larger piping to bring the gushing oil to a drill ship on the surface. Cutting the pipe would be tough, and was considered the less desirable option."
  • The Junk Shot  This technique was described by Admiral Thad Allen on CBS's Face the Nation: "They'll take a bunch of debris -- shredded up tires, golf balls, and things like that -- and under very high pressure, shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak."

  • The Nuclear Bomb?  Don't laugh, Russia's daily publication Pravda says we should nuke it. True/Slant's Julia Ioffe translates the piece: "In Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground... the underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well’s channel."
  • Human Hair?  Julie Bauer at The Grand Rapids Press explains: "The goal is to take advantage of hair's ridged texture that naturally absorbs oil to create sponges that can soak up the oil gushing from a damaged oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.... Volunteers across the southeast United States are stuffing old, clean nylons with clean human or dog hair, then encasing each hair/nylon 'sausage' in a plastic mesh, closing it with plastic zip-ties, and adding it to the growing mountain of oil soppers."
  • The Relief Well  Fast Company explains the most plausible, yet time-consuming solution to cleaning up the oil spill: "BP has already started drilling a relief well in the hopes of diverting oil and allowing the original leak to be plugged. Trouble is, the new relief well will take months to complete.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.