by DAVID AXE
He pushed for blast-proof trucks to protect against roadside bombs — years before the military embraced them. He advocated small flying drones, now considered indispensable, at a time when many officers were skeptical. He has helped lobby for an affordable near-orbital space transport system just as the technology is emerging to make such a thing possible. Franz Gayl, a former Marine and military science adviser, is a one-man technology-reform shop. Now he’s calling for the military to study a surprising but potentially workable solution to the nearly two-month-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
My idea relates to shutting down the leaking oil well in the Gulf using a very specific “green” tool. It’s probably been thought of, but then again, maybe not. …
There has been a lot of chatter about what the Russians have done in the past to shut down errand undersea oil wells using small nuclear weapons. While I am sure that it probably worked, that idea seems very unrealistic, making a potentially bigger environmental mess with radiation, and then treaty and all manner of social controversy to boot.
That said, the physical principles of an explosion-induced shock wave are very good. We have “green” explosive tools to do just that and seal the well shut today. At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, I suspect there is a supply of GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) bombs. According to Wikipedia, the MOAB contains 18,700 lb (8,500 kg) of high explosives.
In addition to the MOAB at Eglin there are also likely quite a few remaining, retired, BLU-82B Daisy Cutter bombs, each with a 15,000 pound (6,800 kg) of HE.
Either one of those proven, safe, and “green” (because they are conventional and consume all of their own fuel) bombs can be enclosed in a simple pressure shell, that is augmented with several tons of liquid oxygen canisters, and lowered to just a few meters above the leaking well head. An oxygen-enhanced MOAB or Daisy Cutter detonated at a water depth of 5,000 feet will indeed have an interesting effect on all the well-related plumbing and equipment that is above, at, and slightly below the sea floor.
The ambient water pressure at 5,000 feet is already immense, measuring in at 147 Atmospheres. One Atmosphere of pressure equals 14.67 pounds per square inch, so the ambient water pressure at 5,000 feet equals 2,156 pounds per square inch. It can be compared to being encased in liquid steel under pressure causing a crushing effect on any lower pressure cavity. That is the purpose of the pressure vessel encasement for the trip down, to allow the bomb and its oxygen enhancement to survive the dive intact. Once detonated, the bomb will be completely “tamped” or contained and under the immense water pressures exerted against it.
If you explode such devices above ground the released energy would be observed as a huge blast that moves outward through the low pressure and “squishy” (i.e., highly compressible) air. However, at a depth of 5,000 feet, the blast bubble will be quite small in volume, even at detonation, and as the gases rapidly cool they will of course shoot towards the surface 5,000 feet above.
So, the obvious question is what becomes of the tremendous amount of released energy in the detonation, if there is no huge blast, as one would get above ground? The answer is an absolutely incredible shock wave that will in a fraction of a millisecond crush every volume that it encounters that is less than the pressure of the water shock front through which it is propagating.
Think back to old World War II movie clips of under-water depth charge explosions against submarines. As you may recall from those movies, the blast bubbles are small and localized at the moment of the explosion, but highly destructive to submarines, divers, etc., because of the intense shock wave. Now take that phenomena to a depth of 5,000 feet where even manned submarines would normally implode due to the crushing water pressure. The exploding MOAB or Daisy Cutter would have an incredible implosive-sealing effect on oil plumbing within the immediate vicinity of the detonation.
That devastating shock wave will treat any metal cavity like soft Play-Doh, sealing every perceived cavity with a crushing force thousands of times greater than even the ambient water pressure. The oil plumbing is filled with rapidly flowing oil that has at any moment a lower density than the surrounding and effectively incompressible water through which the shock wave moves. Not only is crude oil less dense, but it also is compressible, unlike the water surrounding it. At 5,000 feet depth the shock wave will therefore have the effect of a concentric fist crushing every inch of plumbing and instantaneously sealing the full length of exposed pipe, but seal it permanently.
The reason that you keep the MOAB or Daisy Cutter elevated a few meters above the well head at the moment of detonation is so that you do not unnecessarily sever the plumbing with the very localized blast bubble. I say this to answer any skeptics who say the problem would be made worse if the pluming is sheared or ruptured. So, for the sake of skeptics make sure that only the high pressure shock wave contacts the equipment, not the blast bubble.
BP wouldn’t like that option because they wouldn’t be able to reopen that particular well. Fortunately, I think the President and the public are at the point of saying this is a national emergency (actually international) and the the business case for preserving the well is trumped by the emergency. The Department of Defense and the Senate Armed Services Committee could play a bigger role. Again, this solution is completely green. It can be repeated until any residual leakage is sealed, though I believe one shot will do the trick. The shock wave will obviously destroy any near-lying equipment on the sea-bed (like robots, cameras, lights, etc.). Those items would have to be moved to the surface during the operation.
I am fairly certain that this green technique will shut down the leak permanently. It can also be modeled very quickly to optimize the parameters of detonation height above the plumbing, oxygen canister/accelerant ratio, and pressure vessel requirements. Please share this with any and all who might be interested. We can take care of this leak at the source before the first hurricanes roll in this summer. I am guessing that with the proximity of Eglin to the problem this could all be accomplished in less than a week.
I would be glad to help in any way I can. It is, after all, science and technology related — i.e., the reason I was hired. I would very much like to help solve this crisis.
“I am not trying to be a spring butt on this, but I have bounced the idea below off of several folks informally, and consensus is it might work,” Gayl added. “I, like you all, and everybody else just want to see the disaster end.”