Engineers build underwater dome to stop oil spill from spreading

As 42,000 gallons of crude oil gush into the Gulf of Mexico, engineers are rushing to build a giant dome to contain the spill before it hits the coastline.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

If someone doesn't stop the oil spill leak soon, we could soon be dealing with one of the worst oil spills in history.

After the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon went to flames and sank, an alarming 42,000 gallons of oil has been creeping into the Gulf of Mexico everyday. That's why the major focus has been on stopping the leak.

BP sent robotic submarines to contain the spill, but it hasn't exactly been working. The remotely operated vehicles haven't been deployed in waters this deep before. BP expects it will take two months to build a replacement rig.

Some engineers have come up with a more promising idea: They want to plug the leak by placing a giant dome over it. Engineers are currently designing the giant dome, but it could take up to a month to build and is only viable as a short term solution. Ideally, the dome would stop the oil and then pump the oil into tanks on the surface.

But not everyone is so sure the dome will even work. Domes have never been used this deep before.

We know from the past, we must prevent oil form hitting the shore to minimize the amount of damage. Time is limited, as the oil is only 30 miles from the shore.

The spill could endanger wildlife and damage fragile habitats. And the beaches in neighboring states from Mississippi to my home state of Florida could be polluted. Three whales already have been seen with an oily coat.

Perhaps hoping the giant dome is a good solution might just be wishful thinking. Scientists are expecting the worst, saying the oil is likely to hit the coastline within days. The Wall Street Journal reports:

BP is also looking into lowering a dome over the leak to suck up the oil, which company officials think could be in place in two weeks. This was first tried briefly in 1979, about five months after the big spill ever at the Ixtoc well off the coast of Mexico. The dome was abandoned after two months, when it was damaged in rough seas.

Since then, the dome approach has been used more successfully, but at shallow depths. BP officials said engineers were studying how to use a dome in 5,000 feet of water.

Image: United States Coast Guard

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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