Grand Junction doctor prescribes oil-leak fix
When Dr. Brad Case saw the streaming video of oil gushing out of the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico last week, it reminded him of blood streaming from an artery.
Thus was born an idea of how to plug a five-weeks-and-counting spill that is the worst in U.S. history.
Case, a vascular surgeon at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and a high school friend who is a mechanical engineer have submitted a pipeline repair concept to BP that’s modeled after the techniques physicians use to heal arterial problems or diseases.
Their plan has shuttled all the way up to BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward, who cautioned Friday it will be two more days before anyone knows whether the latest fix will cap the gusher.
Case acknowledged the idea falls outside of the box when dealing with oil spills. But he said it’s squarely within the box when it comes to addressing problematic arteries and veins.
“We know it will work,” Case said Friday. “We use it in surgery all the time.”
The repair would expand upon a solution attempted earlier by BP with some success before the oil giant’s current “top kill” effort, which involves injecting drilling mud into the well. In the earlier bid, engineers inserted a mile-long tube into the broken line to try to siphon the oil. That succeeded in collecting nearly 1 million gallons before crews removed it to allow room for the top kill method.
Case said the problem with the smaller tube is that oil still leaks from the ruptured line. To fix that, he and friend Keith Hippely, a senior designer for toy company Mattel in California, propose slipping a larger metal sleeve over the broken line and equipping the sleeve with balloons. The balloons would then be filled with fluid or cement to seal off the leaking oil. Another pipe would then carry the oil to the surface of the ocean.
The procedure is similar to how Case would fix a leaking carotid artery or a ruptured aneurysm — insert a shunt with small balloons attached into the injured blood vessel. The balloons are inflated to redirect blood flow through the shunt, allowing Case to fix the vessel.
Case and Hippely submitted an explanation of their proposed solution, along with diagrams, to Jeff Karfunkle, another high school friend who formerly worked in BP’s office in Moscow. Karfunkle replied in an e-mail on Tuesday that their concept “seems worthy of consideration” and that he would forward it to BP executives in Houston.
Case and Hippely didn’t hear anything further until Friday, when Karfunkle informed them their proposal had been sent to BP’s engineering team through CEO Hayward’s office.
“It seems that the top kill is holding for now, but it’s not clear whether it will hold,” Karfunkle wrote. “I am sure they are looking at many contingency options.”
“We’re not looking to sell anything,” Case said. “We’re just looking for someone to make this.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.