The Gulf oil leak is playing out right now like a disaster movie in desperate need of a hero.
The oil is gushing from the deep-water well into the Gulf right now at an estimated clip of 145 gallons a minute -- or about 2.7 million gallons since the oil rig explosion on April 20 that killed 11 workers. There are three leaks 5,000 feet, almost a mile, below the surface of the water, a crushing depth. Attempts using robotic submarines to get the faulty "blowout preventer" working and to plug the leaks have failed miserably. The only sure way to stop the flow is to dig another well nearby that will, to use a popular film's phrase, drink the leak's milk shake.
That process has started. The problem: It will take two to three months. In the meantime, the continuously growing oil slick could devastate not only the Gulf but also affect the Eastern seaboard, including our beaches. You see, there is a little thing called the Gulf Stream that can pick up that oil and carry it right up here onto our shores. From AP: "Some experts also have said oil could get into the Gulf Stream and flow to the beaches of Florida -- and potentially whip around the state's southern tip and up the Eastern Seaboard. Tourist-magnet beaches and
countless wildlife could be ruined."
That might be worst-case scenario, but the fact that we're even talking about it is almost surreal. And the really crazy part is that the areas in the Gulf slated for more oil exploration -- plans that will hopefully die as a result of this debacle -- are closer to the Gulf Stream still, putting us in an almost direct path should there be a disaster.
So far, the only good news is that the growing oil slick, now about the size of Rhode Island, isn't moving much. That has so far saved us from having to see the devastating effects on the shoreline.
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While the second well is being dug, the plan is to contain the spill. How will they do that? The idea is to lower 74-ton steel and concrete domes onto the leaks to contain them. Those domes are being built now and, if it works, they could stop the flow in seven or eight days. It's a big if, though. Such a method has never been tried before, and considering the depth, it will be a monumental task. The company responsible for the oil, BP, is also saying that it is using "chemical dispersants" to keep some of the oil from reaching the surface.
Great. So now we have not only oil in the Gulf but also "chemical dispersants."
Another possibility would be to use explosives to collapse the well onto itself. If that can be done -- and it would certainly seem possible -- then that may be the best option. Kill the well for good and don't give BP a chance to keep drilling there. That would be where our hero, perhaps from the U.S. military, would come in with the know-how to pull it off in the next couple of days.
Ironic that it could take another explosion to put an end to the damage caused by the first one. But the chief irony is this: If the leak goes into worst-case scenario mode in the next couple of weeks, the Gulf Stream -- a tremendous force of nature that could provide us with a clean source of energy -- could be the vehicle for the region's doom.