Tuesday, June 8, 2010

S.O.S. · · · — — — · · · Save Our Stuff

by Drew Martin

The BP Gulf oil leak is such a sad and distressing environmental disaster, which seems to have no end in sight. Perhaps if the general rules of ship salvagers were applied here, we would see much more ingenuity and a lot more hustling. In the salvaging world, up to 50% of the value of a ship's cargo is awarded to whomever can save it from sinking. A fascinating article about this culture is Wired magazine's High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace.

In an oil leak situation, the compensation could relate to the potential loss and the averted damage. BP is looking at losses of tens of billions of dollars and the toll on the environment is irreversible...certainly whatever the rewarded amount totaled, would be enough of an incentive to fix the problem for entrepreneurs and other companies if the altruistic 'saving the planet' is not enough of a reason. If this sounds like it is just adding to corporate greed, think of it in terms of the timeliness of sending an important package...you go to FedEx, not the USPS. Neither BP nor the government responded in a timely or appropriate fashion.

Presidential charges have amassed more than just the best minds for urgent demands. Franklin D. Roosevelt's green light for the atomic bomb gathered over 130,000 people for the Manhattan Project. At its peak, the Apollo mission employed 400,000 people after John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon. This current situation deserves as much, if not more attention than building an all-destructive bomb or poking an American flag in the moon, especially because this won't be the last of such catastrophes.

Once talk about using a nuclear bomb blast to seal the ocean floor was put on the table, any other idea, no matter how absurd, seemed worth considering. So, I thought of a few companies sitting on ingenious designs that could be applied here.

1. Prophylactics are arguably one of the most influential modern designs/inventions: curbing population explosions and helping prevent the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Everything about the anatomy of this situation makes a prophylactic solution a perfect fit. Trojan could make enormous condoms to fit over the leaking pipe. When the condoms fill up they would be tied off and floated to the surface and then tugged to land for refining.

2. Motorboat engines are quite a remarkable invention. Typically you would want to keep water away from an engine, but the motor boat engine uses water to cool itself. That being said, the engines have a very bad PR image because they are noisy, dangerous and polluting. The idea of burning off hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil to clean up the mess seems like such a waste and just as environmentally devastating as the leak itself. I would propose to Johnson Outdoors, Inc. to create a motor that could separate the oil from water and then burn off the oil but instead of powering a propeller to pull around recreational water skiers, the engines would work as generators, turning the oil into electricity, which could be relayed back to shore via cables or battery boats.

3. The third idea is to use an ancient and deadly element in the high seas: rice. Rice was once known as the most dangerous cargo to transport in wooden ships. Gold, for example, is heavy but nothing happens to it if it gets wet. Rice, however, is very expansive. When water leaked into the hull of a ship and soaked bags of rice, the grain swelled with such a force that it would rip the ship apart. Uncle Ben's Boil-in-Bag technology could be revamped here as Kevlar/sushi roll rice plugs. The dry rice packages would be stuffed into the riser pipe, opened enough to saturate with water and then the rice would expand and cut off the leak.

4. Of course BP will need a mascot to make a media spin on the situation...perhaps my Subby the Submarine can come to their rescue.