Here We Go: Energy Investment Banker Urges Nuking the Deepwater Horizon Well

I don’t know anything about Matt Simmons, except that he’s a proponent of Peak Oil, the main cog in energy investment giant Simmons & Company...and altogether rather bearish about the prospects of any combination of conventional and alternative energy keeping pace with global demand, barring dramatic reductions in consumption.

A brief bio blurb on the respected, Pennwell-published Oil & Gas Financial Journal (linked above), suggests that he’s not someone to dismiss out-of-hand:

Matthew R. Simmons is chairman and CEO of Simmons & Company International, one of the largest investment banks serving the energy industry. He is also a prominent oil industry insider, having served as energy adviser to President George W. Bush, and is a member of the National Petroleum Council and the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2005, he authored the book Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, which examined oil reserve decline rates and the unreliability of Middle East oil reserves

As hopes for a swift, “conventional” solution to the Gulf oil spill roller-coaster around (and the dragnet for “outside-the-box” answers has widened), Simmons is receiving Web-wide attention for his pronouncement in a Friday Bloomberg News interview that Obama should seize control of BP America, put the military in charge of the Deepwater operation and attempt to seal the leaking well-head with a small, tactical nuclear explosion…citing successful Russian initiatives to nuke leaking wells between 1966 and 1981.

Problem: All the stories describing Soviet nuke-fixes seem to trace back to this article in former-Russian-propaganda-organ-turned popular-tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda. (If you don’t read Cyrillic, don’t bother.)  Some also casually reference a report by Kevin O’Flynn, a staffwriter for the Moscow Times, although all I can find is a “phonetic transcript” of a PRI interview with O’Flynn in which he is quoted as saying:

Not actually oil leaks, but they did deal with gas leaks in that way. Soviet Union, from 1965 to 1988, they used nuclear strikes in peaceful manner more than 100 times.  And on five occasions, on those huge gas leaks, they set off atomic bombs underground, which basically moved the earth so that the leak was crushed and the gas stopped leaking out.

US online magazine LiveScience, which doesn’t suck, and which—I presume—has better sources than I do—echoes O’Flynn’s observation here:

The Russians were using nukes to extinguish gas well fires in natural gas fields, not sealing oil wells gushing liquid, so there are big differences, and this method has never been tested in such conditions.

So basically, as I read it, what we’re talking about is:

—30- to 50-year-old Soviet-era technology precedent (assuming no parallel US R&D program, with better Nazi scientists)
—Applied to gas wells—not oil wells—and never underneath a deep body of water, or in this particular type of geological formation
—Four successes and one (unspecified) “failure”

...that, piled on top of Simmons’ not-altogether-confidence-inspiring assertion that:

Probably the only thing we can do is create a weapons system and send it down 18,000 feet and detonate it, hopefully encasing the oil

Insert your own red flags as appropriate. Mine were triggered by the words “probably,” “create,” “system” and “hopefully.” Also, I’m not sure even Doc Savage has the technology to drive a pipe-choking nuclear warhead 18,000 feet down against a nominal, unrestricted upflow pressure of ~5,000psi. 

Anybody else feel like a stiff belt of Bunnahabhain? My advice is to start now, because odds are we’ll be hearing lots more about the “Nuclear Option” this week. In life as in the movies, nothing says “take-charge” like a wild-ass Hail Mary play involving an atom bomb.


Posted by StrangeAppar8us on 05/30/10 at 07:29 PM • Permalink

Categories: Geek SpeakNews

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He who seriously suggests using a nuke as a giant monkey wrench is one sick puppy.

HTP, you’d be terrified at how fast this idea is catching on, at least on the winger blogs, where I first encountered it. That’s why seeing it on Bloomberg was especially blood-curdling for me. Hell, RAWstory even covered it, as though it made some sort of intuitive sense.

Remember, the wingers grew up on a steady diet of Ayn “Screw the Laws of Thermodynamics” Rand, and Robert “Science is for Manly MEN” Heinlein, supplemented with plenty of their scifi cousins and descendents.  They’re conditioned to think you can just pull out an explodey-whatsit out of your ass and use it to solve everything.  That’s another reason they’re so awfully fond of starting wars…

This interview, and those who’ve latched onto it as The Ultimate Solution—with concomitant accusations that the reason Obama and BP don’t want to do it is to preserve the precious well, which is obviously such an asset—has been rattling round the intertubes for days now, and it’s been driving me fucking crazy.

They’ve been valiantly thrashing it out on Crooks & Liars, where, to their credit, not many have felt it was a particularly appealing idea, for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the most strident voice came from that inconvenient entity on any forum discussing outlandish solutions to intractible problems—someone with direct experience who happens to know a bit about the issue:

Oh jeebus - here we go again!!!
Sun, 05/30/2010 - 10:34 — Seattle_Truthseeker

Yes, as I have stated in my other posts - and I have been involved in sub-surface and tunnel shot testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) - timing and firing engineer - I have explained why this won’t work, and yes, take a look at Baneberry Event - December 1969 - that was an estimated 50 barrels of water that flashed to superheated steam - it fissured through solid granite strata!!! Further, drilling to 18,000 feet is absurd. Our shot holes were between 3,000 and 5,000 feet) And as you drill (a shot emplacement hole is not going to be less than a three foot diameter hole - You need very specialized equipment to drill that diameter hole - the time to drill that would be months - AND you would be drilling a very large hole - IN THE SEA FLOOR! You could NOT keep it dry and the water WILL flash to superheated steam! Opening up more leaks.

Anyone who has been around these things, particularly at the NTS will tell you how absurd this idea is. And the folks at DOE, Los Alamos, Sandia, and Livermore know that this is not practical or possible in any way, in a sub-sea environment. I wish people who have not been around these devices, nor involved in testing them, would PLEASE STFU!

This outburst didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of some, and I bailed out with the argument still raging.

There’s also the inconvenient truth that there is no device in the current nuclear arsenal that would fit down the existing pipe, which is in any case, if I recall correctly, somewhat bunged up with annular hardware and coursing oil and gas at incredible pressure, comparable to some extent to the pressure of the ocean at a mile deep, which would likely crush any device anyway (Why not reinforce it, one might ask?—Well, the casing required would mean it would either be too large, or there wouldn’t be enough room for gubbins inside to produce a satisfying boom, but details, details).

But there are so many inconvenient truths in this concept that it’s hard to know where to start.

I love the fact that it HAS to be a nuclear device. It’s so quaintly early-to-mid twentieth-century, when everything atomic was regarded as magical.

Anyway, Simmons isn’t an expert on oil wells, he’s an investment banker, and in Britain, that’s rhyming slang.

I did enjoy an alternative idea that came up in comments at The Oildrum—a giant screw to plug the end of the riser. Realizing this would require a giant screwdriver, the assembled brains trust then devised a system involving a sunken but still propellable destroyer following a circular course to fill that need. Then the mean old mods deleted that thread on the spurious grounds that it was facetious.

Simmons isn’t an expert on oil wells, he’s an investment banker, and in Britain, that’s rhyming slang.

YAFB, it’s lovely, and I thought it needed a nice frame.

Apparently anybody who knows how to spell “google” is now qualified to opine on this disaster. Hooray for the intertubal experts! Really, neurosurgery should be live-streamed, and surgeons should consult their websites’ comments sections before proceeding to snip that glioblastoma.

I have to add (having had a less than comfortable night’s sleep) that even if a device of a suitable diameter could be fashioned, and even if it could be introduced to the existing borehole, the oil and gas pressure—sufficient to expel a massive column of extremely heavy drilling mud—means that you would have invented and deployed the world’s largest ever mortar.


My red flags were triggered by the phrase, “energy adviser to President George W. Bush”

(If you don’t read Cyrillic, don’t bother.)

Minor quibble:  Cyrillic is the alphabet, not the language. There are a lot of languages written in Cyrillic, not all Slavic. It’s like saying about Rumproast, “If you can’t read Latin, don’t bother.”

Exploding a nuke 18000 feet down is a brilliant idea. It won’t close the leak, but it will superheat all the water in the area. Put a cup of water and oil in your microwave and set it for 10 minutes. See what happens.


Added bonus: When that bad boy takes out half a dozen cities along the Gulf, the fRighties will have more proof that Obama hates America!

Put a cup of water and oil in your microwave and set it for 10 minutes.

Damn it, now you’ve made me curious.

Cyrillic is the alphabet, not the language.

Origuy, thanks. My point was that the Pravda link is never to an English-language version, or even to the kind of comically disjointed translation that makes Russian technical journals the bane of my existence; but always to the original story in all it’s Greco-Bulgarian funky-font glory. It’s apparent that most of the writers who cite it as a source haven’t read it themselves, and probably can’t. My parenthetical note was a sly, economical nod to the disappointment that awaited Rumproasters who followed the link.

PS: If you ever criticize me again, I’ll ruin your life.

Fortunately Obama and his advisors are probably not taking the time to read the wingnut blogs where this *option* is being discussed.

HTP “GIANT RADIOACTIVE SHRIMP EAT LOUISIANA” was so funny it kept my blood pressure under control as I read through the rest of it (not over you guys but over what’s going on out there).

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