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could the Navy stop the oil leak?
June 21, 2010 3:51 AM   Subscribe

I don't have a political dog in this fight, but why, at this point, isn't President Obama sending the Navy to go down and stop the oil leak in the Gulf? certainly they could do it..right?
posted by mrmarley to Technology (53 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I read that the rear admiral said that bp had superior equipment and were able to do a better job than the navy could with their resources. Maybe google "rear admiral" and "bp" to find those articles.
posted by anniecat at 3:54 AM on June 21, 2010


Why would the Navy be any better at stopping an oil leak than an actual oil company? Why send amateurs in instead of professionals?

It's not like BP aren't trying - they don't want it to keep leaking. Apart from anything else, that's millions of dollars of oil that's being wasted.

BP want the leak stopped just as much as you do, and they're the best people to do it.
posted by Mwongozi at 3:56 AM on June 21, 2010


With what? The US Fleet consists of:

11 Aircraft Carriers
14 Ballistic Missile Submarines
4 Guided Missile Submarines
102 Surface Combatants
53 Nuclear Attack Submarines
33 Amphibious Warfare Ships
31 Combat Logistics Ships
27 Support/Mine Warfare Ships
9 Active Reserves
Strategic Sealift
1 Other

Not one of those ships is suitable for plugging the hole or cleaning up the mess.
posted by three blind mice at 4:05 AM on June 21, 2010 [9 favorites]


Short of dropping a nuke on it, no. And if I need to tell you why that's a bad idea, well...
posted by Happy Dave at 4:08 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


i'm certainly not an expert, but my boss (retired navy) said he sent a suggestion to bp to stem the leak--send a nuclear sub to sit on it. he said it could sit at the bottom of the gulf indefinitely, and is most definitely big enough to cover an 11-inch hole. he's not a quack, and he knows more about such things than i do. he seems to think it would work just fine. others, obviously, didn't agree with him.
posted by msconduct at 4:11 AM on June 21, 2010


The Navy isn't in the business of cleaning up oil leaks and oil spills. It's the military. Calling in the Navy to fix this wouldn't be like getting firemen to rescue a kitten from a tree, using their ladder. It would be like getting firemen to perform open heart surgery on you, using their hoses.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:15 AM on June 21, 2010 [33 favorites]


If your boss is retired Navy, then I'm glad he retired--he sounds incredibly daft. Placing a nuclear sub on top of an incredibly pressurized hole sounds like a way to guarantee the entire Gulf Coast gets hit by a nuclear-inspired tsunami.

Also, there are sailors on a nuclear sub--do they just sit at the bottom of the ocean indefinitely? Do we sacrifice a few dozen lives to plug the leak?

Most likely, his suggestion was dismissed because it's not only risky, it's retarded.
posted by j1950 at 4:16 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Your boss is a quack. Submarines can't go anywhere near the depth of the leak.
posted by bloggboy at 4:18 AM on June 21, 2010 [9 favorites]


bloggboy is correct: the pressure at this depth would crush a nuclear sub like a tin can.
posted by Justinian at 4:22 AM on June 21, 2010


It's a pipe sticking out the ground, right? You can't really set a sub on top of that. Trust me, that was the first thing I thought of too, but it's not really workable.
posted by Slinga at 4:35 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


msconduct: "i'm certainly not an expert, but my boss (retired navy) said he sent a suggestion to bp to stem the leak--send a nuclear sub to sit on it. he said it could sit at the bottom of the gulf indefinitely, and is most definitely big enough to cover an 11-inch hole. "

Crush depth (as opposed to maximum operational depth) on modern nuclear submarines is just about half as deep as it would need to go, plus / minus variations for class. Max. operational depth is quite a bit less than that.

So, no. That's a silly thing thing for him to say.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 4:41 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


As others have mentioned, the armed forces aren't equipped or trained to deal with this. The oil companies are; every major oil company operating in the GoM has sent senior advisors to the Horizon team to help stop the leak. There's massive impetus to stop it, they aren't stalling. I mentioned early on in the incident that the only sure way to kill it is to drill relief wells, which they are doing, but it takes time to get down to the depth the leak is at (it's not on the sea bed). The Oil Drum has good discussions on this if you want more information.
posted by arcticseal at 5:01 AM on June 21, 2010


If President Obama sends in the navy, he would be taking on direct responsibility for them, which includes the very distinct possibility of their failure.

Leaving this problem in BP's court is much, much better politically. He can just snark from the sidelines, going all "Hey, British Petroleum! Fix this damn leak already!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:20 AM on June 21, 2010


The coast guard is already there. They are part of the armed forces. I'm not sure what good it would do to send the navy as well.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:25 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sending the navy shows willing.

Obama's a politician. In lieu of being able to do something he's showing willing.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:29 AM on June 21, 2010


The reality is that no one, not BP, not the US Armed Forces, no one knows how to stop the leak.

That said, the flippant anti-military attitude of most of the responses here are ignorant. The engineering and scientific acheivements of the US Armed Forces are impressive. They built the Hoover Dam, a US Navy submersible holds the world record for manned ocean diving depth, they were the first to split the atom, they landed on the moon, to name just a few.

The US Armed Forces also bring a command and control structure. BP is having un-coordinated efforts going on in various places. Mis-managing some of its assets. BP now has an army of workers in the Gulf, and they do not have any clear command structure.

Gen Colin Powell and Sen Bill Nelson are among many calling for the military to take a greater role - a commanding role - in this clean-up. There is no reason why the military cannot commandeer any needed experts or equipment from BP.

It is ridiculous that BP is still in charge - that they are deciding media access to US territorial waters, they are deciding what oil disperants to use, they are deciding what safety equipment to give workers. The US military, an organization sworn to protect the American people (not BPs stock value), should be making these decisions.

But, even if the US Military were in charge, the only working plan right now is to drill a relief shaft, and that will take time. (Of course, the US Coast Guard and US Navy have been saying for years that these companies should have to drill the relief shaft to 95% completion before they start drawing oil - so, if people had listened to the military experts in the first place, the relief shaft would be nearly done already.)
posted by Flood at 5:32 AM on June 21, 2010 [11 favorites]


For the past decade, particularly due to the War on Terror, we have been told again and again that what was needed was "The will to triumph" for values of triumph equal to reelecting anyone who was in favor of opening up yet another front in the aforementioned War on Terror. As a result of this kind of thinking, we now seen to believe that the military, full as they must be with the will to triumph, can do anything, using only a machine gun and two hand grenades.

The thing is, the people selling you on being full of this will to triumph thing were full of something alright and there is a pretty limited set of problems you can solve with a machine gun and two hand grenades, no matter how much will you have.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:42 AM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Check this out to get an idea of the scales involved.
posted by orthogonality at 5:45 AM on June 21, 2010 [23 favorites]


Hmm. I'll grant you the Hoover Dam, but I would have sworn that the Trieste was actually designed and built by Europeans. It was sold to the U.S. Navy, right?

Also, the U.S. Military was not the first to split the atom. I think that honor belongs to these two.

Furthermore, why is it that conservatives don't want the government to be big enough to enact social programs—but the military is a hammer with which they love to hit anything they can reach?
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:47 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Military submarines can go down about 1,500 feet (I don't think the exact number is public). The oil spill is at around 5,000 feet.

Realistically, the military would put out an RFP and look for a contractor who could do the job. The only contractor with the right resources in the right location would probably be Halliburton, which is already involved.
posted by miyabo at 5:55 AM on June 21, 2010


The military did not build the Hoover Dam.
posted by rdr at 5:58 AM on June 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


"This idea some people seem to have that the military can solve any problem is kind of wierd."

I think it's because, given adequate planning time and funding, the military (I always think of the Army Corps of Engineers, but there are other units as well, plus DARPA) has come up with some HUUUUUUUUUGE feats of engineering and control of nature; while other big US projects have often had military significance, such as purchasing Alaska or building the Eisenhower expressway system.

I think because the Army Corps of Engineers is out at the levees they built when there's a flood, people forget they're not just there fixing the emergency ... they did the preplanning for the emergency so are well-suited to cope with it. The oil leak, not so much.

But our military really is incredibly competent at massive public works and at emergency humanitarian response, so my mind goes there first too, even though I know that in this case, the military doesn't have the expertise or equipment. I'd feel better if fresh-faced young people in uniforms were fixing things on the orders of level-headed, craggy-faced general-types. But without the expertise, that'd be just theater.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:01 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Hoover Dam was built by private contractors.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:01 AM on June 21, 2010


I think because the Army Corps of Engineers is out at the levees they built when there's a flood, people forget they're not just there fixing the emergency ... they did the preplanning for the emergency so are well-suited to cope with it.

Don't brag about those levees.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:05 AM on June 21, 2010


they landed on the moon

NASA headed up the moon landings and they're a civilian agency.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:09 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


You're right - the US Armed Forces did not build the Hoover Dam. They built so many dams, I always assumed the Hoover Dam was one of theirs.

Ok - I will substitute the Panama Canal for the Hoover Dam. The point being, the US Armed Forces have great Engineers and Scientists at their disposal.

For all of you who are attacking the US Military, what makes you think BP has the command structure to organize and coordinate an army of workers spread out over a few thousand miles? What experience does BP have in coordinating a massive dissaster relief program that you think they are so much better for the job than the military?
posted by Flood at 6:15 AM on June 21, 2010


When I was in college I interned in the Oil Spill Response division of a Gulf Coast state. I don't see why grunts in one of the Uniformed Services could not lay boom along the coast.

I'm surprised that a full-blown effort hasn't been made to do so from Louisiana all the way down Florida. It's easy work. It seems that BP is still in charge of those efforts. That to me should have been taken over by the federal or at least state governments a long time ago.
posted by vincele at 6:17 AM on June 21, 2010


It's not attacking the US Military to point out that you wrongly cited an amazing engineering achievement as the work of the US Military when it was not the work of the US Military.

I think the US Military can do and has done amazing things. Impressive feats. But their expertise does not extend to a mile below the ocean surface. BP's expertise does extend that far, because they drilled the well in the first place. Flood, what exactly would the US Navy be doing differently/more effectively than what BP has so far done? I don't trust BP and would rather have an institution like the US Navy swoop in and save the day - but I'm not silly enough to think that they have any business doing so.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:24 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Who or who is not laying down boom along the coast is a matter of clean-up, and wondering why BP is still in charge of that aspect of the crisis is a valid question. But the OP's question is about why the Navy has not stopped the leak. The reason is because it can't do so.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:27 AM on June 21, 2010


(Of course, the US Coast Guard and US Navy have been saying for years that these companies should have to drill the relief shaft to 95% completion before they start drawing oil - so, if people had listened to the military experts in the first place, the relief shaft would be nearly done already.)

I'm surprised that a full-blown effort [to have grunts lay boom properly] hasn't been made to do so from Louisiana all the way down Florida. It's easy work. It seems that BP is still in charge of those efforts. That to me should have been taken over by the federal or at least state governments a long time ago.

No arguments here, with these two comments. But here's the problem: this was all prep work and diligence that was NOT done by BP or the US Government before this mess. BP should have listened to the military experts and the Coast Guard (or whoever) should have been laying boom as part of just being a responsible society. BP ignored plenty of rules/regs that were already in place. But noooOOOOoooOOOOooooo, BP had more important things to do than to prepare for a massive underwater oil leak, because in the arrogantly-conceived short term, there was no profit motive to put so many resources into safety, only in getting the oil out as quickly as possible.

I would be more than fine with the military having an even greater role in preparing for this and other disasters, especially since enormous international corporations apparently can't be trusted to do it correctly. However, that doesn't help with the fact that we have an oil leak NOW.

Also, it's not "attacking" the military to point out that they'd wind up subcontracting the same people in order to fix this leak. The frustrating thing about the whole mess is that BP is the organization that is SUPPOSED to have the expertise in this area, but it turns out that their expertise is mostly in getting oil out. So, now we're left with a lot of great big organizations appearing weak.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 AM on June 21, 2010


For all of you who are attacking the US Military, what makes you think BP has the command structure to organize and coordinate an army of workers spread out over a few thousand miles? What experience does BP have in coordinating a massive dissaster relief program that you think they are so much better for the job than the military?

I don't see much attacking of the military in this thread. But now you seem to be answering a lot of different questions. Could you make a plausible case for an increased military role during this disaster? Absolutely. Is BP's management of the disaster above reproach? Absolutely not. Has the military achieved a lot of impressive technical feats over the years? Yes (although not many of the ones you listed). Should we have listened to the Navy and Coast Guard and mandated 95% relief wells drilled concurrently? Yes (although I'd like to see a cite for that one).

Can the Navy just stop the oil leak? Well...no. At least not any faster than BP can. And it would probably take them significantly longer as they deal with a pretty big learning curve since, unlike a select group of oil companies, the Navy does not have the necessary experience in deep sea drilling.
posted by 6550 at 6:36 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Of course, the US Coast Guard and US Navy have been saying for years that these companies should have to drill the relief shaft to 95% completion before they start drawing oil - so, if people had listened to the military experts in the first place, the relief shaft would be nearly done already.)

I hadn't heard this. Do you have a cite?
posted by atrazine at 6:37 AM on June 21, 2010


If President Obama sends in the navy, he would be taking on direct responsibility for them, which includes the very distinct possibility of their failure.

Leaving this problem in BP's court is much, much better politically. He can just snark from the sidelines, going all "Hey, British Petroleum! Fix this damn leak already!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:20 AM on June 21 [+] [!]


Sending the navy shows willing.

Obama's a politician. In lieu of being able to do something he's showing willing.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:29 AM on June 21 [+] [!]


This is just ridiculous. As has been pointed out repeatedly, everyone who has the knowledge to fix this problem is already working on it. The US Navy does not have expertise in this area. It's not like they're sitting in DC with some secret solution, going "We know how to do this, just let us fix it." The Navy has not been sent in because there is no point in sending them.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:39 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


[bunch of comments removed - please answer the question]
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 AM on June 21, 2010


The Army Corps of Engineers =/ The US Army
posted by electroboy at 6:47 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is plenty that the US Military could be doing differently.

First of all, they would not be restricting access by the media - which BP is doing to prevent further damage to BP corporate image.

Second, they could be granting research requests by outside organzations. BP has rejected providing spill samples to several universities. The rejection of spill samples to the geologists at USF was probably the most covered, since the people at USF might actually have something to contribute - but BP is saying that their geologists have it all under control. Why are BP scientists the only ones allowed to study what is happening?

Third, they could be over seeing the use of safety equipment by the clean-up crews. There are reports from several sources that BP is preventing workers from using respirators, because if they use respirators, then that is an admission of respiratory illness potential, and opens up a whole new area of law suits. Why are we giving the clean-up crews safety equipment based upon liability exposure of BP. (Amy Goodman and Democracy Now did a whole segment on this)

Fourth, BP is continuing to use a toxic oil dispersant, which is banned in the UK and the EU. Obama has asked several times for them to use something else. BP has a financial interest in the company producing that oil dispersant. The military could be deciding which, if any, oil dispersant to use, based on what is best for the Gulf Coast, not what is best for BP.

Fifth, there are reports that BP workers are laying booms down along the coast in ways that do not conect up and do not account for local tidal flow. The US military's command structure is better suited to to coordinate such a large scale effort.

Finally, I agree - we need BP engineers to drill the relief shaft. That amounts to about 30 guys on a drilling platform out at sea. The US Military could commandeer these guys, and make sure that progress is going good for the US people, not for BP.

I don't understand why anyone would want BP in charge? The US Military should be in charge. Instead, you prefer to keep BP in charge, and deepen the perception that Obama is doing nothing.
posted by Flood at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Navy doesn't have the resources or the expertise to do something like this. Could they develop the expertise if it was made part of their mission? Sure, but it would take years. As much as it may suck, the people working on the oil leak are the people that should be working on the oil leak. By most accounts, BP has hired just about everyone with relevant expertise to consult on this project.
posted by electroboy at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2010


Not to pile-on, but...

...a US Navy submersible holds the world record for manned ocean diving depth...
To be fair, the Trieste was not designed or built by/for any US military. The Navy purchased it from from its design team in 1958. Before the Navy purchase, it had operated for several years in the Mediterranean. Under Navy ownership and subsequent modification, though, it did, in fact, reach the record depth. So, it's a bit of yes-and-no.

...they were the first to split the atom,...
If by "split" you mean "make a bomb", then, yeah. However, if you actually mean "discover fission" then, no, they didn't. Actually, the splitting of the atom was based on a lot of separate researcher's work, worldwide. I was in the US (under the auspices of the Manhattan Project) that fission was enabled on an industrial scale.

As for the military landing on the moon...well...only sort of. While early missile development was purely a military endeavor, President Eisenhower expressly separated civil and military space programs with the creation of NASA. The manned lunar project was expressly a civil (NASA) project. In fact, the DoD was hard-pressed to define a use for manned space flight and ended-up focusing largely on satellite technology. Obviously, though, NASA's manned projects were greatly influenced by the DoD's missile research.

Of course, the military can, and does, do great things. But, it rarely does so without a lot of private sector involvement.

More specific to the question...No, the Navy cannot stop the leak. They do not posses the necessary equipment or expertise to address this unique disaster. They ceased extremely deep submersible experiments years ago. And, even when they were doing them, they weren't performing anything much beyond simple observation. Certainly, they were not experimenting with the sort of industrial-scale repair work that sealing the leak would entail. Sad as it may be, only the private sector has that expertise (Though, as we are discovering, "expertise" is a highly relative term.) To that end, any administration faced with this sort of disaster, is really hamstrung into relying of the private sector to fix it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:58 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Flood: There is plenty that the US Military could be doing differently.

All of the things you mention are valid, but only in the context of the Military assisting in the clean-up of the spill. The question is "Could the Navy stop the oil leak?" and in response to that, none of your suggestions would help.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:07 AM on June 21, 2010


That said, the flippant anti-military attitude of most of the responses here are ignorant. The engineering and scientific acheivements of the US Armed Forces are impressive...

My dad was an engineer for a Navy R&D lab for his entire career. The pace of progress on any project since the end of the 2nd world war can be considered "Glacial" - and the Navy really only does conceptual engineering on projects too big and unprofitable for private contractors, and even then they rely heavily on outside contractors to do most of the engineering and administrative grunt work.

In this case, they'd need to solicit bids from contractors who are specialists in the field - and BP would probably be at the top of the list, as they have the submersible ROV resources, in-house expertise in deep-water engineering and they know the geology of the Gulf better than anyone.

As for marshalling manpower in US littoral waters, that's the Coast Guard's job. I get the impression the Coastie Bigwigs working on the spill have dropped the ball, and probably won't be on the job at summers end, if not much sooner.

The Navy doesn't have the in-house expertise or logistical doctrine to handle this, and I seriously doubt they could wing it and still be effective. This spill required extensive planning and preparation across a wide swath of the federal government - they needed the equipment, the planning, the inter-departmental liaising and the logistics worked out ahead of time and war-gamed thoroughly to train the participants.

Oh, well, it might be there for the next spill. Maybe.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:10 AM on June 21, 2010



As for marshalling manpower in US littoral waters, that's the Coast Guard's job.


I think that Rear Admiral I was talking about was actually with the Coast Guard, now that I try to google it myself.
posted by anniecat at 7:48 AM on June 21, 2010


As a submariner, I can't resist piling on the nuclear submarine idea (heh): A nuclear submarine needs clean, cool seawater as a heat sink for the reactor plant. If you park it in the dirt, you'll suck dirt into the seawater intakes, eventually reducing heat exchanger performance until stuff starts overheating, and end up having to scram the reactor.

That's assuming the sub could go that deep (it couldn't) that you could negative-ballast the sub enough to put much down-force on the bottom (limited ability. subs are normally kept very near neutrally buoyant. You couldn't just load tons of lead and expect to surface again in an emergency) and that the soup can/hose scenario wouldn't happen (lol). Also, if the well casing is cracked, blocking the top wouldn't do any good anyway.
posted by ctmf at 8:05 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, the flippant anti-military attitude...

I might be one of the people you're refering to, but frankly, I don't see it. I think almost everyone here has pointed out that this would be a case of sending the military in to do a thing for which they are not particularly well trained or well equipped.

I think this is only slightly less of a dick move then sending them off to do something they are well equipped and trained for, but then adding all kinds of complications to the opperation so that it is more risky for the soldiers but looks better on TV. If it makes you anti-military to think that soldiers shouldn't be used with the same care and concern that most people give plastic spoons and styrofoam cups then I'm cool with being anti-military.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:05 AM on June 21, 2010



As for marshalling manpower in US littoral waters, that's the Coast Guard's job.

I think that Rear Admiral I was talking about was actually with the Coast Guard, now that I try to google it myself.


The Coast Guard is very much building up their presence in the gulf area. They have a page up about their response over here: http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/site/2931/

Anyway, they've sent cutters from Maine, Rhode Island, NYC and probably a few others as well (my S.O. is stationed on one of those cutters, they have been told they're going to be down there until about November or so). I believe the buoy tender ships are being used to lay booms. Not sure on the specifics of what all the other other ships are working on.
posted by lyra4 at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2010


See: Seawolf stuck on the bottom of the Sea of Okhotsk. Awesome story. (hopefully this link works.)
posted by ctmf at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2010


First Google result for "military" and "spill":
SINGAPORE - The U.S. military has no expertise that could solve the oil spill from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on June 4.

"I know there's been some commentary about this. The truth of the matter is we don't have any expertise in this area," Gates told reporters during a visit to Singapore.
As to the charge of "anti-military" bias, one can have a great deal of confidence in an organization's competence, yet still believe that it lacks omnipotence.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:13 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've worked on the Deepwater Horizon as well as several of the construction vessels that are on location at the spill site. My job is a surveyor -I position vessels on the surface and track ROVs subsea using acoustics. I have 15-years of experience and an engineering degree. I like to think of myself as an expert in my nitche field.

Here is a single scenario in which it would have been disruptive for anyone other than BP to take over the operation. This is just one little piece of the pie that I happen to know about. I'm sure there are many more examples like this, some of which are far better than mine.

So, there are currently several vessels with ROVs at the spill site. The ROVs are being tracked by acoustic means. So, let's say for the sake of argument, that there are 8 potential ROVs in the water each requiring with a little bit of acoustic bandwidth. The bandwidth has to be spaced-out because acoustic equipment on the various ships is manufactured by different companies and they don't always play nice together.

To complicate matters, the dynamic positioning systems that the vessels use to maintain their position use acoustics in addition to GPS-based positioning. They require a chunk of bandwidth as well. In a worst-case scenario, if positioning were to fail, we can get a "run-off" and one of the vessels loses position. This would result in two vessels colliding or (if the vessel in question is a rig) another major problem with a riser pipe. And remember that the number of simultaneous systems working at that location right now is likely unprecedented.

To prevent a problem, BP's expert assigns every ROV and every vessel at the site specific acoustic channels on which to operate. This calculation is important, non-trivial, and requires experience and theoretical knowledge.

Would the Navy would think to commandeer that particular guy when they took over the operation? How about a dozen similar guys who have specific knowledge in their particular field? Would this guy have to educate his Navy supervisor about what he needs to do and why it matters? Would this learning curve slow down the response?
posted by MotorNeuron at 8:14 AM on June 21, 2010 [70 favorites]


Nthing much of the above:

No, the Navy can't stop the leak. Possibly they have equipment to clean up after a modest spill from one of their own ships, but not a massive guyser 5000 ft down.

Any operational submarine would be crushed long before reaching the depth (google "thresher"). Even if it got to the wellhead, there would be nothing it could do.

Given the unfortunate circumstances, the engineers at work on this are probably doing whatever can be done. There are no magic solutions.
posted by Kevin S at 8:14 AM on June 21, 2010


[seriously folks, from this point forward you need to address the question and not fight with other posters or answer some other question - metatalk is a fine option if you need it. thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 9:10 AM on June 21, 2010


The US Navy is the largest "spill responder" in the US in terms of capability and number of "responses" per year. In theory, getting them to take over looks attractive. In practice, what the Navy has is quite limited and not appropriate for this kind of response. Every ship has boom and a skimmer or two which they use to clean-up small spills of ship fuel. They clean up a large number of small spills every year. The typical Navy scenario is a few hundred gallons spilled into a predeployed boom around the ship, caused by a mis-connected fuel line. They are not equipped or trained to do more than that.

The US military arm which is trained to deal with large, uncontrolled spills, is the Coast Guard. They have a special unit, the National Strike Force (wikipedia), which trains for oil spill response (among other things). They have the best training and equipment to respond to the spill of any part of the US government. The USCG is mandated to do research on spill response. Their recent work has focused on sunken oil, as that has been the majority of the big spills in the past decade. They really are the experts on this. There isn't anyone better.

The USN has some great engineers and engineering capability, but none of it relates to oil drilling or petroleum well engineering. One of the things that people have trouble getting their heads around is the scale and extreme conditions at which the blowout is occurring. At a depth, the water pressure is 2500 psi, about 165 atmospheres. The oil, at that already incredible pressure, is coming out with a pressure of 2500-3000 psi (up to 200 atmospheres). The oil is about 300 F/150 C at the blowout point. It's extremely hard to do even the simplest things under those conditions. The Navy just doesn't have the capabilities that either the USCG or BP does.

As I've said before, the reason BP is still in charge is because that's the way US law works. There are several advantages to this. BP has much deeper pockets than the USCG (or the Navy, for that matter), particularly in how fast they can spend the money. BP can write a contract in days from their general revenues. Any one who has ever been part of a govenment contracting process knows that they can be excruciatingly slow, even during emergencies.

BP also has really deep pockets, paricularly in the short term. The USCG, even the USN, would almost certainly have to go back to congress to pass an emergency appropriations bill. They don't have a $2 Billion+ slush fund for spill response. They can recover up to $1 billion from a reserve fund, but that can take a couple of years to transfer, leaving a huge hole in budgets. Also, NOAA and the States have to draw from that fund as well to do the natural resource claims, that is, pay for long-term remediation and clean up, as well as economic damages. The fund is going to be more than exhausted by this spill just for damage claims. There's no extra there for response operations of this magnitude too.

To sum up: BP is still in charge because:
- they have the best knowledge about the spill site;
- they have the capacity to pay large amounts of money, quickly
- they have access to private well engineering and deep water operations skills (within BP and contract) that the government and military do not have

However, BP is not in full control of response operations. They do have the Coast Guard looking over their shoulder. The other agencies, such as US EPA, can issue directives which BP must follow also. I'll leave the politics of this oversight to other commenters, but that's how it's supposed to work.

Furhtermore, don't think that the government hasn't given BP a couple of hard shoves. One of the things the president has required was the release of the well-head videos and the new estimates of the flow of oil. Currently, another of these presidential working groups is estimating how much oil has been released, something no one has done yet (this is really hard, btw).

Also, BP is using much less dispersant now than in the earlier parts of the spill. The EPA issued a directive about a month ago to cut rate of dispersant use by 2/3. This lead to injection at the well head almost exclusively, a much more efficient application process for dispersant.

Sorry that this is so long. There's been a lot of mis-apprehensions about capability and casting about for magic bullets, becasue this has lasted so long without begin resolved. It is frustrating. As Kevin S says above, however: There are no magic solutions.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 8:19 AM on June 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


The single best reason I can think of for not having the Navy take over the recovery efforts is because if they do, they'll have to sub-contract out to the very same people who are doing the actual work right now. The only difference will be that instead of BP paying those people, the Navy (read: the American taxpayers) will be paying them. While I'm sure BP would love that, it doesn't seem like the best solution to me.
posted by KathrynT at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2010


In today's New York Times, a former Navy submarine officer argues that the Navy should take over from BP and blow up the well.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:50 AM on June 22, 2010


The only difference will be that instead of BP paying those people, the Navy (read: the American taxpayers) will be paying them. While I'm sure BP would love that, it doesn't seem like the best solution to me.

Actually I think that would be better. The government would just send BP the bill. Obviously the guys operating the machinery would stay the same, they would just switch employment from BP to the government. You could even give them all a huge raise to make it something they're happy about. The point is, get rid of every motivation to cut corners.

I actually think BP has placed the operation of the cleanup into a newly created subsidiary with it's own budget.
posted by delmoi at 12:58 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


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