Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Refined solutions to crude spills
The optimist in me says that any minute a giant oil-devouring robot is going to be deployed to clean up the spill in the gulf. It will scour the shores, cleanse the waters and sip crude off the tender wings of endangered Snowy Bayou Plovers.
If that happens, then the pessimist in me believes that man will have forgotten to install an “off” switch and the insatiable robot will turn inland to devour refineries and gas stations and won’t stop until it immobilizes my Saturn.
And the news junkie in me would prefer that to the drip, drip, drip of inaction coming from this disaster.
The whole story has such a primitive ‘70s feel to it.
How is this happening in the 21st century? In the 1970s, my teachers all assured me by now we’d all be zooming arout the skies in jet packs fueled by things like grass clippings. Of course, these were the same teachers that assured me one day I’d be using the metric system to measure things like kilometers per liter.
Like my mythical oil-sucking robot, it seems like somebody forgot to include an “off” switch on the oil platforms that robotically suck fossil fuels from deep beneath the earth.
You mean no one saw this coming? No one thought to put a series of fail-safes in a mile-long straw stretching through choppy waters routinely ravaged by hurricanes?
We make a mistake entrusting these sorts of operations to people with more degrees than sense.
Me and my fellow idiots at the bar were talking about it just yesterday.
“You’d think they’d -- just in case -- have some sort of really big cork or seal that automatically deploys if the really big straw breaks off at the top,” said a regular Joe conveniently named Joe. “And then -- just-in-case -- you put another one down below that.”
“And then to be really, really, safe -- just-in-case -- you put one down at the very bottom so that if, God forbid, the whole thing breaks off you can just shut it off and start sweeping up the debris.”
Really, can such simple safeguards be that difficult to include in construction mandates with something so potentially devastating?
I think this gulf catastrophe would be working out differently if Jed Clampett was still involved in the oil industry.
He’d be full of common sense suggestions that infuriate investment bankers like Mr. Drysdale, but would ultimately prove beneficial.
Now they’re talking about lowering a giant dome over the source of the leaks. I like this idea, but wonder why each rig doesn’t come equipped with its own telescoping gigantic dome that it can drop atop leaks the instant they are detected.
Sure, hasty deployment might doom handfuls of adventurous scuba divers, but I’ll take a host of loggerhead turtles over scuba divers any day. No loggerhead turtle’s ever ruined my backyard barbecue by boring me with dozens of deep sea pictures from his last dive.
The whole industry seems rife with arrogance that, c’mon, nothing like this is ever going to happen, and if it does it’ll be minor and we can deal with it in a jiffy.
And up from the ground comes a bubblin’ crude.
I keep thinking the world changing innovations are just around the bend and I keep getting slapped in the head with stinging reminders that the bend is no where in sight.
We can only hope this spill will hasten our wisest intentions to slip free from technologies that were new about 50 years before our great-grandfathers huddled around sitting room radios to hear FDR talk about war effort oil rationing.
And, until then, we can all do our part.
Me, I’m going do a pencil drawing of what my giant oil-devouring robot will look like. Later I’ll ask the boys in the bar where they think we should put the big off switch.