Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
Nikolay Shpakovsky

May 15, 2010
The TV set brought bad news again. The well on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is still bleeding, poisoning the environment. Huge forces are attracted for containing the spill: armada of vessels, a concrete containment dome, a sarcophagus equal in height to a five-storeyed building Not so impressive as in our Chernobyl, of course, but still very large. There was a chance to cope with the disaster.

However, the arriving news is mostly unjoyful. I am not certain as to whether it is true but they say about using sand-filled sacks, golf-balls and other improvised means. Probably, everything is worse than planned. The problem persists (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Approximate scheme of the disaster site


All the work aimed at the removal of the accident consequences is done traditionally. Attempts are made to cover the leak and collect the oil spilled on the sea surface. Mental energy is at work.  Neither a concrete dome nor a sarcophagus is needed. At the moment, the most urgent job is eliminating the uncontrolled spreading of oil.

In this situation, a device similar in design to an ordinary parachute may come to the rescue, a cone of oil-impermeable material the top edge of which protrudes from the water surface. Compared to a sarcophagus, the canopy costs almost nothing and it should be and can be huge in size, up to 1–1.5 km in diameter and 300 500 m in depth.  Such a canopy can be manufactured and installed in the sea over the leak within a week.  And oil will stop spreading in the sea.

The proposed construction does not reject other leak-eliminating methods but supplements them. The flexible envelope with slings (or without them) will not interfere with the leak-stopping works.  It will only prevent oil spreading in the sea.

The proposal to use a parachute-like canopy is so obvious that there is no need to go into details, all the more so because the information about the disaster peculiarities can only be obtained from TV and Internet. We can only say that it is necessary to provide a possibility of oil pumping-off from the top part of the canopy into tankers. Oil is lighter than water so it will go up to accumulate at the cone top and will be easy to pump off (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 2. A cone-like envelope with a possibility of oil pumping-off from the top portion.


One more proposal is also based on the use of a flexible envelope, but it is not a closed cone. It is a flexible envelope opened at the top and forming a kind of truncated cone (Fig. 3). Such a construction will allow oil contaminations to be accumulated on a small area and removed.

Fig. 3. A flexible envelope of the truncated cone type is fixed to the bottom.


A difficulty may occur because it is not quite clear how to expand the huge cone in water. A rigid frame may come to the rescue a ring built in the lower edge of the cone. But with such dimensions, this construction will be difficult to use. It would be much simpler to sew a sealed elastic pipe in the lower edge of the cone. It will be enough to supply pressure air into this pipe and to turn it into a ring, expanding the envelope.

This oil-containing cone with an opened top can be made mobile. For this purpose, loads should be attached to its lower edge and 4 or 5 small vessels can be used to draw the lower edge of the cone apart (Fig. 4). Such a huge mobile containment device may be very effective, especially in combination with underwater prospecting of oil travel from the pipe breakage point.

Fig. 4. A mobile oil collector


I am sure that similar proposals have been made not once but have been regularly rejected by specialists. Indeed, there are proved and approved methods of removing oil pipe leaks. So why thinking of some parachutes?


Dear specialists!
Consider, please, all proposals concerning the use of a flexible envelope. Don't be afraid of its huge size, think of parachutes used for delivering equipment. They are huge in size but nobody doubts their advantages.
The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is not the problem of British Petroleum only. The damage of the oil well can result in an ecological disaster of a global scale. It is necessary to search for simple and effective methods of dealing with the consequences of such accidents. Otherwise next time we will have to eliminate oil leaks by means of golf-balls and sand-filled sacks. 


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Authors: Nikolay Shpakovsky, Elena Novitskaya