Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Bradenton, Fla.
May 25, 2010
The Willies

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BRADENTON, Fla., May 25, 2010 5:30PM ET -- Have you ever wielded one of those little New Year's Eve noisemakers that roll out and straighten as you blow your heart out at midnight?

That's what we need in the Gulf of Mexico - a mile-long roll of heavy duty plastic sheeting, carefully stitched and sealed to form a circular tube about 36 inches in diameter, with a strong roller at the center and a heavy-duty rubber band - or any workable closure - at the business end.

The force of the gusher won't stop you from setting the closure at the bottom because it will already be starting to fill out the tube, dissipating that energy upwards, as you fit it over the broken drill pipe.

You get a submersible, guide the roll down with cables holding the roller as it descends, and then with robotic arms fit the closure ring over the broken pipe-end. As soon as the oil begins to gush into it, you pull up the roller, and when the gushing oil has pushed your tube to the surface, voila! It's midnight. You've got a noisemaker. You dump the oil from the tube into a container ship and carry it away. It's sort of like a giant condom, but nothing's wasted.

Fig 1. "The Noisemaker"

A mile of 1/2-inch thick continuous plastic sheeting is wound on a spool with a roller at the center. A circular rubber closure ring is attached to the tubing at the outermost end. When unspooled, the sheeting forms a sturdy flexible tube 36 inches in diameter. The entire roll is lowered by a crane from an oil tanker using cables attached to both ends of the spool's central roller. The tanker must be partially-filled for ballast. Once on the sea floor, the plastic tube roll is first unspooled at the pipe stem and then the spool is withdrawn about 500 yards along the sea floor. Doing so allows a submersible robotic device enough flexibility and control against the pressure forcing the oil upward to attach the closure ring and tube tightly over the broken pipe stem. Immediately, the oil will be forced to flow along the available 500 yards of tubing. At some point, probably within 500 yards, natural buoyancy will begin to lift the tube in a wave motion, with the pipe-stem end rising first and the spool end rising last. If necessary on the sea floor, buoyancy can be assisted with massive air bags that can be lifted from other ships. Simultaneously, the rest of the tube will slowly unspool as the cables attached to the roller are hauled up on a long diagonal to the tanker, with the spool always staying just a few yards ahead of the flow. The wave motion of the tube may vary vertically and horizontally with currents but the tube must be allowed to rise and fall and wave at its natural rate of buoyancy, and only gently tugged upward with the cables as it fills. When the oil has filled the tube and reached the tanker, the end of the tube is unspooled and anchored inside the storage area. A ring is fixed to that end for stability, and the oil flows into storage. If needed, suction can be applied at this time, as with a siphon, to maintain flow and buoyancy. When stabilized, light plastic pipe-lengths can be slid down the tube and progressively righted to vertical, and then covered with stronger pipe materials.

Many plastic extrusion companies make and stitch miles of half-inch heavy plastic sheeting every day. Some, like straw companies, even create it as a single, seamless sheet of tubing. The roll will weigh 20-30 tons, so you need a big, well-anchored crane to play out the cables attached to the roller as the whole roll of sheeting descends from the tanker to the sea floor. You may be able to reduce the thickness of the plastic. You need to partially fill the tanker so it doesn't get dragged down into the sea by the weight of the oil in the tube. Very strong cables will be required to control its descent, and very powerful motors to slowly but precisely haul up the unfolding roll as it fills. The unspooling roll should be just ahead of the oil flow as the tube floats and is gently tugged upward.

Don't let it open on the way down or you'll have the oil and water running into and condensing air in the pipe. Remember, the pressure is not against the tube sides but its unrolling end. Ice won't have time to form.

Finally, pipe can be fitted over the plastic sheeting length by length by sliding each well-oiled length down the plastic tube and sealing it to the next. However, this will endanger the diagonal on which the tube is created, so measures must be taken to ensure the sheeting is not ruptured as pipe begins to ascend the tube. Oiling the inside of the pipe-lengths may avoid tearing the tube, while simply greasing it might fail because the grease would become solid near the sea floor. If the tube is ruptured, a quick sealing process must be devised to reseal it. At a certain stage, with suction applied, the pipe-covered tube can be righted to vertical.

This solution saves the oil. At 75,000 barrels a day, if that is the flow, it can provide $5 million each day towards the cleanup. This solution is based on several adages: First, "Ride the horse in the direction it is going;" i.e., let the oil flow as it would if released normally, rather than try to stop it. Second: "Nothing in nature is wasted;" i.e., throwing junk into the pipe may stop the oil flow, but all that energy is then lost to us, and everyone and everything that died from it has died in vain. This way, the oil flow is captured and the revenue stream can be put to productive use in the coastal cleanup.

Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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