Gulf oil spill: Could NASA come to the rescue?
As the Gulf oil crisis grows, NASA’s unrivalled expertise and experience in extreme remote environments make it a great candidate to fix the leak.
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Much has been written on the redundancy capacity of the blowout preventers. But two elements to the reports have been constant. First, the existing system depended on a single hydraulic line. As a result, whether there are three or 300 redundancy mechanisms, if the hydraulic line fails, they all fail. Second, the MMS never demanded the deployment of additional backup systems, despite the fact that other oil-producing countries require them.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Destructive Oil Spills
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If NASA were a country, it would have to be in this same company. Would it have ever put into service so critical a machine like the blowout preventer without adding several layers of fault protection, perhaps beyond redundancy on the device itself? Absolutely not – unless it were either impossible or the risk was deemed acceptable. Yet it is equally hard to imagine, in a world of self-regulation, corporate players like BP, Transocean, and Cameron making a very passionate case for the additional complexity and associated overhead of such systems to reduce the risk to their shareholders. Inevitably, corporate “interests” do not always dovetail with public interest.
These issues are largely legal and political, and will take months to resolve.
But NASA could play a critical role in the pressing technical issues that now confront the oil spill in the Gulf. While it appears self-evident that all appropriate government agencies should be called on to act in any national crisis, NASA remains on the sidelines nearly a month since the fatal event in the Gulf.
This is tragic.
NASA’s unrivalled expertise and experience in extreme remote environments, complex operations, high pressure complex fluid flows, data and imaging needs, robotic systems, complex analytical modeling, manufacture of critical and specialized hardware, and safety and hazards management make it a perfect fit as a key responder in the Gulf.
Not only might it have the institutional knowledge to help the oil industry with current safety management, but it might also rescue BP from such errors in the future. Who knows? It might also rescue itself.
For more on the Gulf oil spill:
- Sen. Barbara Boxer and other Democrats want criminal probe of Gulf oil spill
- How bad is Gulf oil spill? A global Q&A on offshore oil spills
- Kevin Costner oil spill cleanup idea interests BP
- Opinion: Gulf spill: What oil habits will you change?