Joe the Plumber (not that one) says he helped stop Gulf oil spill leak

A Kansas man says he's the 'mystery plumber' who influenced the BP containment cap design that stopped the Gulf oil spill leak. BP says Joe Caldart's sketch may have been one of many it's used.

A robotic arm uses a long wand-like object to clean out debris from a pipe at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday.
Courtesy of Joe Caldart
Joe Caldart says the design for a containment cap he sent to BP is very much like the one now being used to stem the Gulf oil spill.

The identity of the "mystery plumber" whose homemade design for a new containment cap may have helped to finally stanch the Gulf oil spill geyser emerged Saturday.

His name is Joe Caldart, a married, 40-something blue-collar guy with five kids and three hound dogs living in St. Francis, Kan. Mr. Caldart has 907 Facebook friends. He likes the band Rednecks & Red Dirt, watches "Family Guy," and cites the 1978 Burt Reynolds flick "Hooper" as one of his favorites.

As to his decision to go public, Caldart says in an interview with the Monitor, "My wife was, like, 'This is kind of scary, I don't know if you should [go public],' and I said, 'Yeah and no.' But I also felt like people should know that here an average guy submitted something that maybe helped."

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

Caldart's sketches, routed six weeks ago to BP and the Coast Guard through University of California petroleum engineer Robert Bea, are a near identical match to the design of a new containment cap lowered last week over the renegade Macondo well 50 miles off Venice, La.

"The idea was using the top flange on the blowout preventer as an attachment point and then employing an internal seal against that flange surface," says Dr. Bea. "You can kind of see how a plumber thinks this way. That's how they have to plumb homes for sewage."

The current design is "a steel cap, and underneath it is the internal plug and on top of that is a piston and the flow tube in the middle, and coming down the left side is the warm water inlet tube," says Caldart. "I made that sketch on May 25th."

Caldart, who first started plumbing as a teenager, says he originally sent BP three sketches depicting a flange and plug design similar to those used in high-pressure hotel plumbing on May 25th. At that point, he says he was told by BP that they were not working on stopping the leak, but simply capturing the oil.

After being told his ideas were under technical review, Caldart tweeted on June 14th, "just got an email from horizon [incident response] saying a similar plan to mine is being implemented, but thanks anyway........ yeah right."

Last week, BP spokesmen contacted by the Monitor said they did not know whether the then-unknown plumber's designs made it into the final cap design, but noted that it was likely the work was already underway.

On the other hand, BP spokesman Mark Salt noted, "I'm sure we've used bits and pieces of suggestions [from the outside] and have picked things out that could be used going forward."

In mid-June, feeling he had gotten the brush-off from BP and seeing the situation in the Gulf getting worse, Caldart started emailing his design to "everybody I could think of," including, he says, Dr. Bea at Berkeley. He started going anonymous because the "Joe the Plumber" moniker seemed to make it easier for people to dismiss his idea. (He says a reference on his Twitter and Facebook accounts to a presidential run in 2012 is a joke.)

"I was thinking, well, if [Hollywood celebrities] Kevin Costner and James Cameron were having problems getting through, as famous as they are, I didn't have a chance," Caldart says in an interview. "A lot of people had a negative reaction to it and basically said, 'You're a plumber, plumbers don't know anything about science. If scientists with PhDs and all that can't fix it, then how can you?'"

BP says it's received over 300,000 tips for how to kill the well and help clean up the mess in the Gulf. About 100 of those ideas have been used to some extent.

The current design proved so promising that BP, about two weeks ago, started considering it not just as a way to siphon off more oil but to close the well altogether. A critical well integrity test began Thursday and continued Saturday. So far, the "shut-in" well appears to be holding steady, promising the end of a near three month leak where up to 60,000 barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf every day.

"There's no evidence that we don't have integrity" of the closed well, Mr. Wells told reporters Saturday morning.

The ultimate decision over whether to leave the well closed or release the pressure and continue surface containment efforts has not yet been made.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature


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