Forget nuking the BP oil well. There is a better, safer way to seal the gusher, according to a U.S. Marine Corps expert. One that won’t turn the Gulf of Mexico into a radioactive swimming pool or risk starting World War III.
Franz Gayl, a civilian science and technology advisor to the Marine Corps, wants to drop one of the Pentagon’s giant bunker-buster bombs, the kind that would be used to destroy Iranian or North Korean nuclear site buried deep inside mountains. The GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb is 30 feet long and weighs 10 tons. There are also leftover Vietnam-era BLU-82B “Daisy Cutter” bombs containing nearly eight tons of high explosive.
In an email to Uncommon Defense, Gayl explained that the bombs can be used like a depth charge used against submarines. Instead of being dropped by C-130 transports, the giant bombs would be encased in a simple pressure shell and lowered to a few feet above the leaking well head.
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 milisecond crush every volume that it encounters that is less than the pressure of the water shock front through which it is propagating.
That devastating shock wave will treat any metal cavity like soft Play Doe, 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.
Gayl calls the big bombs an environmentally “green” way of sealing the well. I’m not enough of a physicist or explosives expert to judge whether the idea is genius or insane. One obvious concern is that the blast might rupture the pipes around the well and worsen the leak. But Gayl argues that detonating the bomb a few yards from the well head will be far enough to avoid destroying the plumbing. I’m also hesitant to call dropping giant bombs a “green” solution, although it’s much greener – and much saner – than underwater nukes.
Gayl previously caught public attention for blowing the whistle on delays in mine-resistant Marine Corps armored vehicles. Then-senator Joe Biden demanded that the Marine Corps cease retaliating against him.
Gayl notes that one party that won’t be keen on the “green bomb” idea is BP. “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.”