Cleaning Up the Gulf of Mexico

In June I formulated a plan to help clean BP’s oil from the Gulf of Mexico. To Save the Gulf, Send The Enterprise calls for using the U.S. Navy’s portable nuclear reactors to power air pumps for oxygenating ocean waters in the Gulf. Bacteria already present in the ocean use oxygen to consume whatever oil they encounter.

A lot of people really liked the idea. One commenter suggested that instead of blowing bubbles into the depths of the ocean, warm surface water could be oxygenated and pumped instead. Pumping air below a couple hundred feet would have required much more energy than pumping water.

When the oil volcano was gushing, the bubblers would have been concentrated in rings around the wellhead. BP’s well has now been capped, but there are still plumes of oil that need attention.

Mother nature will slowly take care of this task, but it will happen faster if the Navy is put on task. The fleet’s submarines are each powered by a portable nuclear reactor, and the Navy certainly has a few spare reactors sitting around.

Once most of the oil has been consumed, the pumps can be used to treat the ‘dead zone’ that appears at the mouth of the Mississippi river every summer:

Summer rains wash nutrients, dissolved organic matter and sediment out of the mouths of rivers, into the sea, sparking large phytoplankton blooms. …

Enhanced phytoplankton blooms can create dead zones. Dead zones are areas of water so devoid of oxygen that sea life cannot live there. If phytoplankton productivity is enhanced by fertilizers or other nutrients, more organic matter is produced at the surface of the ocean. The organic matter sinks to the bottom, where bacteria break it down and release carbon dioxide. Bacteria thrive off excessive organic matter and absorb oxygen, the same oxygen that fish, crabs and other sea creatures rely on for life.

Mississippi Dead Zone (emphasis added)

So what if it’s expensive? Wealth is created when people work to solve problems, doing research, building supplies and equipment. Wealth is squandered when people sit around unemployed.

This proposal is by no means complete, and a lot of research still needs to be done on how to best clean up the gulf. But we can start building and deploying compressors and pumps to treat the water today. Scientists and engineers will figure out the best ways use the equipment.

This project is more than a cleanup – it’s an investment in our future.

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