The Nuclear Option

As a member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, I have had the opportunity to listen to the energy investment banker and oil industry specialist Matt Simmons over the years at various conferences. Forecasting energy reserves is not an easy task, Matt Simmons is one of the best. He's been ahead of the curve and more often right than wrong. When he speaks, I tend to listen. That said, it's mind boggling to hear that he is advocating a nuclear option to seal the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. He is right about one thing, in my view, the time has come for the Federal government to take charge and relieve British Petroleum of its duties.

More on the nuclear option, which Secretary Chu is not considering, from the New York Times.

And for more in-depth discussion of the Deepwater Oil Spill and on energy issues generally, I recommend The Oil Drum. It's a peak oil site and often rather technical but it's an amazing resource for any citizen who cares about the impact of the hydrocarbon-based economy. Our entire civilization has been built on hydrocarbons but it should be clear that such dependence is now a risky and unsustainable bet.

Tags: Deepwater Spill, Matt Simmons, The Gulf Crisis (all tags)

Comments

11 Comments

Q: What's worse than an oil spill?

A: A radioactive oil spill.

I wonder how many government resources were dedicated to tamping down this harebrained Internet idea?

by NoFortunateSon 2010-06-03 04:24PM | 1 recs
Also, some Politics 101

Skocpol Responds to Reich on what Obama should do:

I like Bob Reich and consider him a friend, but he is nuts. ... There is a reason why the right, including Sarah Palin, is calling for Obama to "take charge" of the BP disaster, including fixing the leaking pipe. This is a problem that cannot be solved, and probably will not be for many months... 

They want Obama to directly own it so they can reinforce their message that government does not work. Why should liberals, stupidly, be pushing for this? I cannot figure out what the left and many liberal pundits think they are doing in all this.

When a huge private corporation makes a mess and cannot fix it, it is sheer lunacy to take direct charge of that mess unless you can fix it right away.

Obama and the government can (a) hold BP accountable in criminal and financial terms; and (b) orchestrate the mitigation, restitution, and financial help for the regions affected. They are doing this and should be as visible as possible about steps in both areas. The last thing they should do is take charge of fixing the leak itself when they cannot.

The Robert Reich essay progressives have parrotted can be found here. The right let slip the meme that government needs to take control of this problem.

And us progressives, with our blind faith in all things government, fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Too bad the problem cannot be fixed.

I am very proud of the fact that I hold a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering with a specialty in fluid mechanics. I have reviewed the problem. Once that well broke, we were effed five ways to Friday. I hope this latest cap procedure works. I actually think it is the best shot.

So what's Obama to do? He's boxed in. He has progressives foolishly demanding that government seize control of BP, which I liken to an error on the magnitude of attacking Iraq after 9/11. And he has the right exploiting this tragedy. I said it once. I'll say it again. Thank goodness Obama is a heck of a lot smarter than we are.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-06-03 04:47PM | 2 recs
RE: Also, some Politics 101

I am no expert, but I have read Reich's proposals and I have read the criticisms of them, and I find the criticisms more persuasive.  I would be happy (not TOO happy) for someone to tell me something Obama could be doing that he isn't doing yet, but no one has come up with anything yet.  The giveaway is that even Obama critics who are very familiar with the workings of the U.S. Government (like Karl Rove) cannot come up with anything specific.  Everyone is a critic, but no one can actually suggest anything beyond McCain-style "tell the Sunnis and Shias to cut out the bullshit" rhetoric.  Maybe someone will persuade me that receivership will suddenly cause the exact same BP employees to suddenly reorient their incentives and start doing things differently, but I have my doubts.

I didn't like Skocpol's response because it prioritizes the politics too highly.  If there was something Obama could do to speed up a solution - even if it would take months and make the government look marginally less effective in the interim - I would want him to do it.  This is a major crisis and I honestly wouldn't care about reinforcing right-wing talking points if it would mean actually solving the crisis.

by Steve M 2010-06-04 12:16AM | 1 recs
RE: Q: What's worse than an oil spill?

I'm not advocating such a procedure but my understanding is that the Russians have used the technique to seal wells in Siberia. 


It's not an "Internet idea". Matt Simmons is not a gadfly. 

by Charles Lemos 2010-06-03 04:47PM | 1 recs
RE: Q: What's worse than an oil spill?

It wasn't a personal attack against you, Charles. I realize that I can often be dismissive and derisive, and I am a huge fan of your writing. Matt Simons is no gadfly, but he wrote like one in that one instance. The problem is, these memes gain steam, and the same government that we're hoping will solve the problem for us now has to dedicate resources to dismissing the option.

The Soviets did use nuclear devices to try and seal natural gas leaks. They succeeded four times. But they failed the fifth time.

The short answer as to why this is such a dangerous idea stems from the fact that gas and oil have very different fluid properties, the pressure 5000 feet below the water surface precludes direct human intervention, and the leak is in water as opposed to air. If this same leak had happened in 500 feet of water, the tragedy would be much easier to plug. You can send people down there to do the work of robots.

In a nightmare scenario, the nuclear detonation could cause a collpase of the sea bed above the oil reservoir, generating fissures that would leak all the oil uncontrollably until the reservoir ran dry. There would be no stop. When you're dealing with natural gas leaks on dry land, the worst you'll likely have to do is torch the escaping gas if you fail.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-06-03 05:56PM | 1 recs
Obviously

 The proper thing to do at this juncture is to drop the facade and release the secret time travel technology which the Air Force recovered from the crashed UFOs. Not some crazy idea like nuking the oil hole, which failed miserably in 2037 under the terrible Muslamic regime of Obama the Sixth.

by QTG 2010-06-03 05:38PM | 2 recs
Obama the 6th

Now there was a tyranical dictator. I remember him well.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-06-03 05:40PM | 0 recs
I want to know more...

Do you have an article by someone advocating that option ? (NYtimes does not qualify)

by Ravi Verma 2010-06-03 06:05PM | 1 recs
If I recall correctly

At the beginning of the Iraq War the Defense Department gamed out scenarios in which the US could be ultimately defeated and the scenario that wound up defeating the US was Saddam Hussein effectively adding radiologic material to the oil in Iraq & Iran thereby making it unusable.  The Deep Horizon gusher has leaked about 2 million barrels of oil so far.  I tend to think this is about 10 % of what the US uses in a year.  It is located in an area believed to be similarly rich in oil deposits.  It would seem that setting off a nuclear device could potentially contaminate the entire area and its oil reserves.  In all honesty, this would probably pose minimal health risks to end-users of said oil, but you know how people are about radioactive materials.  I don't see how that would be better.

But more importantly - Charles Lemos is a member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil?  Will he ever cease to amaze?  I saw a very persuasive talk about Peak Oil at the American Geophysical Union conference about a year ago.  The speaker contended that we would never reach the 2 X CO2 scenario considered by the IPCC because we simply don't have enough oil.  I'm an ardent environmentalist, but really, is anyone prepared to live in a world that effectively runs out of oil?  It kind of makes you wish for sea level rise instead.

by the mollusk 2010-06-04 12:57AM | 0 recs
I know something about leading technology projects

And the discussions of this problem are really disconnected from reality.

This is an engineering problem.  Why are we listening to the opinions of an investment banker? 

The technical people with the expertise need to be leading this project.  They are almost all within the private sector.  The government doesn't have the expertise necessary to take this project over. So you can fire the current engineers and bring in new ones, but it will take time for the new ones to understand the problem.  Moreover, I am not sure that the people operating the underwater machinery CAN be replaced.

It is a crime that the government doesn't have people within MNS who are technical experts in this problem: but from what I have seen they don't. 

 

by fladem 2010-06-04 11:21AM | 0 recs
RE: I know something about leading technology projects

I tend to agree with what you're saying.  Except that I think the argument is that the BP management should be replaced with a panel of government economists and scientists to make sure that the technological folks get the message that this must be stopped at all costs rather than "must be stopped within a reasonable amount of cost to BP".  

Something I'd like to see come out of this in the long run is a government department or team specifically tasked with researching safety and containment technologies associated with deep-sea drilling.  Make the companies pay into it the way they pay into the SuperFund.  It is unfathomable to me that we basically have the same strategy to cap this well that we had in 1979 to cap the Ixtod in the Bay of Campeche.  If companies aren't forced to invest in safety, they won't invest in safety.  Not sure how many times we need to learn that lesson.  You need a team dedicated to finding the best strategies for capping wells, which dispersants are safest and best to use, what the relative risks are with using dispersants, how to contain oil leak from a deep well, etc.  The next Deepwater Horizon could be right around the corner.  We can't have a repeat of this 30-year-old nonsense we're seeing now.

by the mollusk 2010-06-04 11:48AM | 0 recs

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