I’m not giving up yet. I admit my idea is low-tech, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t work. It offers a number of clear advantages.
One: The methane-hydrate ice crystals can form or float or rain out without stuffing up anything.
Two: It imposes no mechanical stress on the LMRP or BOP, which are a bit beat up from all accounts.
Three: It leaves the top of the well openly accessible, so it can still be worked on without interrupting the collection of oil, in case someone comes up with something else worth trying.
Four: The collector array is open and modular. Replacement collector focus sails (“funnels”) can be clipped in and out without disrupting anything. If design changes are required, they can be done on the fly.
Five: Nothing is single-source. Dozens of companies can make the components, and parts from different suppliers can be merrily intermixed.
Six: Did I mention, you don’t need dispersant?
To review: the concept is very simple. Oil fresh out of a well floats, because it’s lighter than water. So, if you don’t disperse it, it will rise to the surface. The collector array I suggest is like a series of lenses or funnels which keep the rising column from drifting away from the well. Each large funnel is just a 100 foot square cloth tarpaulin simply tailored into a truncated pyramid shape with perhaps a 30 degree pitch from edge to center, with a large six-foot hole in the center. Depending on oil density, rise rate, and current strength, these “funnels” only need to be placed every 100 to 200 feet from the sea floor to the surface, requiring a total of perhaps 25 to 50 of them total.
They can be manufactured from any cloth that won’t dissolve in the oil. Nylon, cotton, polypropylene. In practice, the cloth will become oil-soaked, which should aid it in floating small-end-up. Floats could be attached to the center hole to help.
At the surface, a collecting pool needs to be built to collect the oil, from which it could be pumped aboard ships. If nothing is done to handle methane rising from the well, and it reaches the pool, it could be allowed to vent directly from there (unflared), although strict safety measures will be required, such as no personnel in the immediate area. A quick way to build a collecting pool is to chain some barges together, perhaps with some flexible panels between them to fill the gaps.
At a safe distance from the collection pool, multiple ships could pump aboard the salvaged oil and ferry it somewhere to be processed.
From appearances of the video from the ROVs, perhaps more than 50,000 barrels a day are escaping the current dual-capture system that BP is using. I’m pretty sure my suggestion could collect all of what they’re currently collecting and most of what they’re currently missing.
I haven’t redrawn my chicken-scratch drawing yet. It’s at bottom on the first post in this blog. I’m told some of the best ideas were sketched on the back of napkins, so maybe I’ll leave it that way for flavor.