Nuke it. Seal it with inflatable tubes. Stuff it up with the collected works of Ayn Rand. These are just a handful of thousands of offbeat oil-spill fixes which have been cooked up by average Joes and Janes, many at the invitation of the Unified Command and BP. With the oil leak continuing to spout disaster in the Gulf and BP running out of options, these rookie pitches are all starting to look a lot more appealing.

With due respect to crowdsourcing, how did it come to this? As a New York Times report pointed out back in May, drilling technology has advanced dramatically over the last two decades; spill mitigation, on the other hand, "has not changed much in 20 years."  So why didn't we throw all this brainpower at deepwater drilling safety at the same time engineers were developing the technology that allowed rigs to drill so deeply in the first place?
Some might say that the problem is technology itself: It gets us into jams that it can't get us out of. As Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote last week, "Americans have long had an unswerving belief than technology will save us....And yet, as Americans watched scientists struggle to plug the undersea well over the past month, it became apparent that our great belief in technology was perhaps misplaced." Or as one scientist put it: "This makes science look bad." 

But should it? Technology does not drive itself; it is propelled by the force of human priorities. In this case, it seems that drilling deeper and faster was the priority, while safety technology lagged behind.

What do you think? Does technology always accelerate faster than it can brake? Or is this a case of misplaced priorities? And how can we keep these questions in the spotlight when this disaster has faded from the headlines?

User Comments:

Technology does not always accelerate faster than it can brake. It is not necessarily a case of misplaced priorities. It is not necessarily true that drilling harder and faster were priorities, while neglecting or setting aside safety issues. You said it well enough when you stated, "Technology does not drive itself; it is propelled by the force of human priorities."

What people fail to realize is the big picture when it comes down to the question of who is ultimately in charge of or responsible for making sure all is right wit the world. The reality is the same one true of why we can't completely predict the weather, seismic outcomes from deep within the Earth, and where the next tectonich plate slip is going to happen.

In glib response to accuracy of a weather forecast, for example, we hear people praise and applaud weather technology. We hear peole proclaim what a "good job" we have done in pinpointing where and when the next strike of earthquake or volcanic eruption will take place. Factually, people can only be just so accurate before "science" will prove them wrong.

We are stewards of this planet. We were given dominion over all the resources in our natural realm. Given our intelligence and all mankind has come to know how to handle and predict, the people have indeed made great strides and accomplished much in handling those resources. But who does junior cry to when Atlas shrugs and a leak happens that not even all mankind seems to be able to plug?

We have come so far in self-fulfilling and self-realization that we have forgotten Who made this universe. Some things will never be completely explained here on this planet, nor will we find those answers, necessarily, when we stand in front of the Creator of the universe; we can only understand just so much while living on Earth.

Do you view this as a glib response? It is hardly glib; it is a response which says we have become so proud that we are wide-eyed and innocent in our response--"well, we can just plug the hole." With what big piece of chewing gum? We have not come so far that we are able to know precisely everything there is to know about the newer challenges--and even the older challenges we are presented with when such major disasters happen. Responsible? You betcha we are responsible for it happening. But are we able to be the panacea everyone is looking for, to appease the worried masses?

Sorry, Charlie--the tuna fish is wrong on this one. The chicken of the sea is coughing up black blood and the doctors acknowledge that there are just times you don't have the medicine that cures the ailment.

How to keep these questions in front of the spotlight when the disaster fades, you ask? It starts with prayer...and the ability to remember we need to thank the Creator for every day we get to "play" with His workmanship, His creation. And it takes looking in the mirror, each of us, to remember we are given a grave responsibility to care for this planet. Excuses don't solve the problem, but thinking we have all the answers in technology doesn't cut it either.

Pray this day and always that the Creator of the universe holdsour hands and guides us in knowledge and truth while we play in His backyard. The One Who created this environment knows exactly how to fix what we mess up.

OK, read the article. Has nothing to do with the title.

Is there a part two coming that will actually tell us what can and can not be fixed?

To say technology ALWAYS accelerates faster than it can brake would be an extreme claim. I'm sure there are many exceptions, where advances are reasonably paced, and even many more areas of technology that would fall into a gray area where it's hard to determine if such a question really matters. As an example, I think of a diaper that offers some kind of advanced leak guard technology. Perhaps I lack imagination, but I can't fathom how leak guard technology in diapers would accelerate at such a dangerous rate as to raise an alarm after things have gotten out of control.

As far as drilling technology is concerned, it seems highly plausible that priorities had been misplaced; that there wasn't a proper balance between technological advances and their corresponding advances in the safe & practical use of these advances. It also seems plausible that such is the nature of deep-water drilling that things can always go wrong in ways that nobody ever expected or imagined, let alone devised a solution for. (I think it's just a matter of time before diapers with advanced leak guard technology are seriously considered as a means to plug the well.)

I have no idea how to ensure these questions remain in the spotlight, other than by government control of the media. Most of the media outlets that comprise the "spotlight" are first and foremost about making money. That being the case, these questions will have their 15 minutes of fame only so long as they're tied to a disaster.

BP is not interested in sealing the well. It is not measuring oil flow into the gulf. Other oil industry participants have not been asked for assistance. Attempts to reach out to BP to offer assistance are aggressively rejected.

Between hubris and liability mitigation, the US gov't should have stepped in to coordinate an industry effort to address the problem rather than leaving it in the incapable hands of one corporation suffering moral hazard.

Safety protocols should be inherent in any new techology, and this incident is an illustration of why. Early success seems to reward the creative inovators that rush in production with a solution. Unfortunately, this rewards bad behavior where the risks are not taken seriously until something bad happens. But the risks associated with new technology need to be managed. We have the FDA, NRC, and the EPA, ...etc. Maybe should have something for new technology in general. Or maybe we should teach safety principles and hold large corporations accountable for following those principles. We already hold them responsible for "creative accounting".

I think the wrong question is being asked here. BP is an oil company. Their business, as unpopular as it has become, is to produce oil. They aren't aren't in the business of creating Hazardous Materials Response materials. There are thousands of HAZMAT professionals nationwide who wish oil spill cleanup technology was better than it was, who clean up hundreds of spills that are much much smaller with inadequate absortion materials.

Remember the principals of the distribution of labor. BP produces oil, other companies produce oil spill clean up kits. If clean up kits haven't advanced much, there is either not much improvement that can honestly be made, or making those advances isn't profitable. A decesion not to persue advances in cleanup technology would be the fault of those comanies that create and market clean up products, not an oil producer.

Don't get me wrong, the responsibility of this incident falls squarly on BP, and I hope this eventually puts them out of business, but I don't think it's rational to blame them for a lack in HAZWOPER technology development.

I agree. We have the technology to open up a dangerously huge pocket of hydrocarbons that was safely tucked away under the sea floor, where it belongs. Now we don't have the technology to close it in time. It's like opening pandoras box.

I know there are GOBS of people throwing ideas around about this "spill" (gusher would actually be the proper term, if not politically correct), and to my great dismay Bill Nye actually put down most of us "non scientists" for even using any of our limited brainpower to consider the problem. But I have to put this out there and wanted to make PBS my first stop.

Has anyone ever known someone that has had angioplasty? How about putting a smaller 'pipe' down through the open section with a bladder that can be 'inflated' once in place well below the damaged section. Heck, you could fill the darn thing with cement (or mud) pumped from the surface or from an ROV.

And while I'm here, I'd also like to ask (since NONE of our intrepid news agents are willing or brave enough) IS BP's FOCUS TO PLUG THE LEAK AND KILL THE WELL OR DOES IT SEEM AS THOUGH THEY'RE MORE INTERESTED IN SALVAGING THEIR RIG AND PUMPING AS MUCH OF THAT BLACK GOLD AS POSSIBLE INTO TANKERS?

Sorry Bill, I just don't see how being a mile below the surface of the ocean changes the laws of physics, or makes it so difficult to apply logic (although, I do understand that the job ends up being much tougher, just not as impossible as it seems).

Grab a platform from nearby. Sink an anchor a few hundred meters from the spilling one. Drill at an angle towards the well/spill. Either a) send conventional explosives into the well to collapse it, b) force seawater in, c) nuke it, d) all of the above, but not e) quit trying. Technology isn't at issue. Ultimately it's Man's greed, sloth, and his vanity. America's more accurately. I do without a car but only 1 in 18 of my neighbors can do the same. Addiction to makeup, autos, food & booze is just as bad as addiction to technology!

Eugene, Oregon

"IS BP's FOCUS TO PLUG THE LEAK AND KILL THE WELL OR DOES IT SEEM AS THOUGH THEY'RE MORE INTERESTED IN SALVAGING THEIR RIG AND PUMPING AS MUCH OF THAT BLACK GOLD AS POSSIBLE INTO TANKERS?"

I'm sure BP's focus is to stop oil from leaking into the Gulf by the quickest means necessary, as that's what's in their best interest.

In fact, BP was attempting to put a cement plug into this well (which is an exploration well, not a production well) when the explosion happened.

If the quickest means of stopping the oil from leaking into the ocean involves pumping it up to the surface, and BP goes forward with that plan, they'll probably get a lot of backlash and be accused of delaying the response in order to salvage the oil.

Even if people believe BP hate's the environment, they couldn't possibly belive BP hates money, and nobody can argue that this isn't going to cost BP a lot of money. This is a huge expense for them, and the longer it drags on, the more expensive it gets. I'm not trying to make BP into a victim; but this WAS an accident.

These oil companies have very large research budgets (for exploration & drilling). They were simply allowed to avoid spending comparative sums on safety & cleanup research.

Also, it is important to remember that the technology to prevent oil spills like Horizon does exist. BP was simply too cheap to put it in and we were too stupid to not require it.

I generally think it's a case of misplaced priorities. The people that drove the advances in drilling probably didn't spend as much on safety to reduce costs.

I'm not going to address the question asked, but am offering what I think could have been a solution to stopping the leak: Instead of using those extremely powerful shears which were some 9' tall and 15' long to cut the pipe I think they should have welded or fixed some flat metal on the jaws and crimped that pipe shut. The pipe was pretty long and if one crimp didn't work they could have crimped again somewhere else and yet again. They could have stuck their hose thing in the end of the pipe like before if there was any remaining oil coming out. If none of this worked they could have simply cut the pipe off and done what they are now doing.

Does BP own the robotic Subs? They don't. How can you say they are not asking for help?

The valve failed. They could have had the blow out preventer and they could have had capping equipment on site if there was a problem, to the Monday morning quarterback it is all too apparent.

ADM. Tadd Allen was saying if the valve that failed would work and the flow stopped, The pressure is so great that it might blow the whole works out of the sandy bottom. Then the oil would be spilling out of an inverted cone in the sea floor and impossible to stop without a huge cap of concrete acres wide. Think of how the Russians capped the reactor at Chernovyl. (spelled that wrong)

Bio-remediation technology isn't being used and it should be - the should be spraying the estuary and shoreline with microbes that thrive on the chemicals found in oil.

Perhaps the reality is that BP is dragging their corporate feet because they are trying to salvage as much oil as possible. I am not at all convinced that they truly want to cap this well, afterall, look at how much oil it does produce.

Is it possible that they are not using Bio-remediation because it will taint the oil or hamper their ability to salvage the oil later on.

I can't believe that I am not seeing/hearing anything said about the use of Bio-remediation.

FOOL SPEED AHEAD! There is risk in everything we do. This was a cost effective business decision from a corporation (BP) with 70x more violations then its competitors.This is one of the largest oil eruptions of this century. At 5000 ft the pressure would crush a nuclear submarine, yet Shell Oil brags about drilling safely at 8000 ft.
In the US Space Program, did we consider the risk of bringing contaminants from the moon, landing in the Earth's oceans and contaminating them. The Big Picture was going to the moon.
The oil companies are the same way. The Big Picture is finding OIL, no more Middle East Oil that supports insurgents. Risk of an oil spill was the least of their worries.
The question arises, though with this humongous eruption of oil, none of the brands of gasoline have gone up in price. Remember when a tear drop spill or a change in summer/winter formulas would cause a spike in pump prices. Is their another oil cartel out there?

There is a lot more going on than just an oil spill. We are creating large empty caverns all over the earth that could fill with magma creating mega-volcanoes. It is even possible that the present oil spill will turn into an eruption if there is magma under the oil pocket.
There was a NOVA documentary about Mega-volcanoes of this type just recently.
We could be creating hell on earth with our reckless use of technology.

Bio-remediation has been used successfully in the past in disasters such as the Valdez. Why BP would use toxic untested dispersant instead of bio-remediation technology is counter intuitive. What's more ridiculous is that the federal government allowed the continued application of the toxic dispersant in record amounts. I mean what is the goal here? To cause even further unprecedented environmental damage and vectors for contamination to humans by exposing the fisheries to carcinogenic toxins. Toxins we don't even fully understand the future consequence of using. Better do that and skip the bio-remediation strategy, eh skippy? Damn skippy. I'm convinced the human race has completely lost its mind.

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