Thursday, June 03, 2010

Ten reasons why nuking the oil vent is a bad idea

1. Some rock types common to Gulf oil deposits, like salt, don’t fuse into rock when heated- they just melt, become radioactive, and then redissolve into groundwater.

2. In big depositional piles like the Mississippi delta, the sediment is over ten kilometers thick. As it thickens, the pressure and heat created by burial squeeze the water out of the lower sediments. This water can then dissolve the radioactive bomb material and leak it up to the surface.

3. Outside the immediate blast zone, you are likely to create lots of fractures by breaking the rock.

4. The 2 billion year old natural nuclear reactors in Gabon show evidence of hydrocarbon migration. So it’s been tried before.

5. At the pressures found below the sea bed in a mile of water, (over a hundred atmospheres, depending how far below the sea floor you are), the cavity formed by the detonation is likely to collapse, so you don’t actually seal anything.

6. Do we really want oil-producing countries like Iran, Venezuela, and Lybia to think that if they just spill enough oil, they will have a justification for building a bomb?

7. Radioactive Cajun shrimp.

8. When’s the last time a solution for fixing a geological problem devised without consultation with Earth scientists actually worked? Hint, the correct answer is not the tube wells of Bangladesh.

9. Got a 6 inch nuclear weapon? That line may work on the ladies, but here in the real world if your bomb is bigger than the pipe, you’ll need to drill a relief well to get it down there.

10. If these guys can’t even drill a hole in the ground without blowing up their rig, do you really want to trust them with a nuclear weapon?


Robin Hanson said...

The radioactivity harm from a small nuke should be trivial compared to the oil now. I don't see why a collapsed cavity doesn't seal - the bottom of the cavity should be solid. The nuke could be set off on the bottom of the ocean, so no need to fit in a pipe. Yes there is a risk it might not work, but what they are doing not isn't working either.

C W Magee said...

Oh yeah:
11. If it doesn't work, then what? You have to work in radioactive, turbid water.

And it doesn't seal because after the blast, it recollapses.

anthony.vito said...

You only have to drill down a fraction of what a relief well would be. The diameter would have to 8 inches according to unclassified information to fit a W79 weapon inside. We probably have something that would go down a 6 inch hole too. That will give a 1.1 kiloton yield which at 1km depth within a few hundred feet of the well should crush and seal the strata. It's silly to think that a "re-collapse" would prevent it from sealing. The re-collapsing area would be to the side of the well. The lateral pressure is what does the work of crushing the well shut.

Chris Phoenix said...

My guess is that the desired effect from the nuke would be to mechanically collapse the pipe, casing, etc. rather than to melt enough rock to create a seal.

We're used to thinking of nukes as highly destructive - and they are, to hollow flammable structures directly exposed to heat radiation and/or blast pressure. But according to this, melting a ten-meter granite sphere requires almost a kiloton.

So, while there are many reasons *not* to use a nuke on this oil spill, we should be analyzing the chance that it could stop the flow, not in terms of the melting characteristics of the rock, but in terms of the mechanical characteristics.


C W Magee said...

Crushed rock is porous. And if this well is being overpressureized by methane coming out of solution due to decompresssion of the upwelling oil, then you need to be below the saturation pressure. Otherwise, crushing rock will just help blow out the well, and you'll have a vent that is tens of meters wide instead of 10 centimeters.

Nic said...

Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t oil drillers already use blasting to increase permeability in oil wells through creating fracture? All a nuke would do is massively increase fracture and depending on the depth and if that fracturing now reaches the surface you end up with lots of little leaks instead of one big one. Even if you do create a couple meter plug of glass in the well you now have good permeability all round it so over pressured oil would likely bypass the plug anyway wouldn’t it? I’m with Chuck on this one, not a great idea.

crandles said...

If it is soltice to minimum, are we getting late for even a hopelessly half-assed northern minimum sea ice extent betting pool?

Anonymous said...

The Macondo reservoir is three miles down. They are currently targeting the relief well to intersect with the blown-out one at nearly that depth, I believe. Even if a nuke caused fissures, would it cause THREE MILES of fissures? Hardly. It would seem that if placed properly it would COMPRESS rock as it displaced the well casing, etc., and any cavity would be located at some distance from the well. Criticisms?