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pallen123's avatar

Why can't they just pull a condom on the oil spill?

Asked by pallen123 (1510 points ) May 27th, 2010

Seriously, I know it would have to be large, but why can’t they just put a very large plastic bag underwater over the plume and vacuum it into waiting tankers? If you watch the footage online, it’s clearly escaping from a single point that appears to be containable underwater if you put a large upside down funnel near the top of the spout.

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15 Answers

HungryGuy's avatar

The oil is coming out under too much pressure to just put a covering over the end of the pipe. It would just burst like a balloon.

Dr_C's avatar

#1 they only show footage from one spill point. There are several.
#2 the news was dominated recently by a plan to put a large container over the spill site… the first one quickly filled with ice cristals due to the cold at that depth, the second one called the “top hat” was basically a metal condom they were going to use to attempt to contain the spill and suck the oil onto tankers. It also failed.

They already thought of this and it failed miserably.

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Cruiser's avatar

That leak is essentially a hole in the bottom of a 5,000 foot deep pool which has ginormouand if it was that simple it would have been done at the get go and they did as pressures associated at that depth. Plus they actually tried that and it blew off the cone like a champagne cork.

pallen123's avatar

5000 foot metal pipeline?

Dr_C's avatar

@pallen123 this is not uncommon.

The network of crude oil pipelines in the U.S. is extensive. There are approximately 55,000 miles of crude oil trunk lines (usually 8 – 24 inches in diameter) in the U.S. that connect regional markets.

The U.S. also has an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 miles of small gathering lines (usually 2 to 6 inches in diameter) located primarily in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Wyoming with small systems in a number of other oil producing states. These small lines gather the oil from many wells, both onshore and offshore, and connect to larger trunk lines measuring from 8 to 24 inches in diameter.

Just imagine the length of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), in which 48 inch pipe alone covers over 800 miles, and which has significant portions of the system above ground. Crude oil is produced in Alaska, moves south on TAPS and then moves by tank ship to the West Coast. From the tank ship, the crude again moves by pipeline to refineries along the west coast of the U.S.

Considering the several thousands of miles of pipe already in place… what is the big deal with 5000 feet?

HungryGuy's avatar

The problem is that there’s already oil gushing out of the broken end. Imagine trying to repair a plumbing leak in your house without shutting off the water main first.

pallen123's avatar

I think they need to lower the 48 inch pipe with a deep olympic pool sized upside down catch basin over the whole field and start suckin’ hard. Seriously, I realize I have no idea what I’m talking about but deep down I really suspect this isn’t so hard to solve more quickly with a boatload of money. First of all I can’t believe this type of disaster wasn’t contemplated before—such that they would already have these large containers built and waiting to be deployed once every 50 years. And given they’re saying if this “top kill” approach doesn’t work, I hope they’ve begun other plan B’s. I’m pretty sure you can throw $1 billion at the problem and get this sort of upside down catch basin built in India in about a day.

Dr_C's avatar

They already tried putting a containment vehicle over it. It does not work that deep due to extreme cold, crystalization and extreme release pressure at the well.

pallen123's avatar

Are these undersea geysers that much stronger than the ones Hussein blew up in the first Iraq war? There were hundreds of those that had to be capped.

Dr_C's avatar

Much much stronger. Also it’s a lot easier to staunch the flow of a high pressure liquid when it’s on the surface as opposed to 5000 feet under the ocean.

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anartist's avatar

Mighty big condom—and what about the gism that just keeps coming and coming?

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