Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Nuclear Option for the Gulf Oil Leak?

According to The New York Times, some oil experts have been giving serious thought to using nuclear devices to seal off the Deepwater Horizon wellhead.

"...The idea has gained fans with each failed attempt to stem the leak and each new setback — on Wednesday, the latest rescue effort stalled when a wire saw being used to slice through the riser pipe got stuck.

“Probably the only thing we can do is create a weapon system and send it down 18,000 feet and detonate it, hopefully encasing the oil,” Matt Simmons, a Houston energy expert and investment banker, told Bloomberg News on Friday, attributing the nuclear idea to “all the best scientists.”

Or as the CNN reporter John Roberts suggested last week, “Drill a hole, drop a nuke in and seal up the well.”

Sounds pretty wild, doesn't it? It might sound a little less bizarre to those who realize that nuclear oil mining was once considered a serious prospect for the Athabasca Tar Sands. In fact, at one point, the US government had a deal with the then Ritchfield Oil Company to produce and deliver a nuclear device for testing at the Tar Sands. They had even decided to fly it to northern Alberta claiming the risk of a mishap causing an accidental surface detonation was acceptable.

The history of nuclear oil mining plans for the Tar Sands is detailed in William Marsden's book, "Stupid to the Last Drop" Random House Canada, 2007. The idea was dropped in the 60's not because of environmental concerns but thanks to the development of cheaper oil drilling projects in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. In 1973, the US Navy Secretary obtained Canadian patent 933087 for a "Nuclear Explosive Method of Stimulating Hydrocarbon Production from Ptroliferous Formations (tar sands)."


LeDaro said...

Oh please no. It was discussed extensively on MSNBC last night by a scientist. It can be very dangerous and it could jab more holes in the ocean bottom. You then have not only oil goo balls floating on the beaches and in marshes but they will be radioactive and that material survives for centuries and not few years. If that happens you can find them flying into homes and swimming pools during hurricane season. It is utterly insane and disastrous idea.

The Mound of Sound said...

Nobody seems to have mentioned the seismic consequences of a shallow, seabed detonation. Water isn't very compressable and it's hard to guess what sort of wave might be generated. Besides, the Soviet experiments showed the oil itself can turn dangerously radioactive and we wouldn't want to mess up a drop of that, would we?