'All for ourselves and nothing for other people' seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. -Adam Smith "All the 'truth' in the world adds up to one big lie." Bob Dylan "Idealism precedes experience, cynicism follows it." Anon

October 25, 2010

Wishful Thinking Won't Stop The Oil Gusher But Nuking It Would

Chain The Dogma    May 23, 2010

by Perry Bulwer

Dreamhealer is it again, this time claiming credit for slowing the flow of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico by having his followers focus their intentions on the ongoing environmental disaster. Adam McLeod, the man behind the Dreamhealer mask, is a quantum quack. I previously wrote about his claims that the quantum woo he pitches worked to reduce the height of tsunami waves headed to Hawaii after the recent earthquake in Chile.

Adam's first claim to fame was that he could heal people, even from great distances away, by way of quantum physics. That claim has made him a lot of money from gullible or desperate people who buy his books and attend his healing sessions. In fact, what he preaches is a pseudo-science that is almost indistinguishable from religious faith and faith healing. Adam's particular 'snake oil' is intention rather than prayer, but both are just different forms of wishful thinking, and wishing doesn't make it so.

Adam is anxious to have some scientific evidence to back-up his claims, so he undertook a flawed experiment that has not yet been replicated, verified or peer reviewed. He was quick to claim success, however, and on the basis of that small experiment he soon expanded his claims to include not just human healing, but the power of intention over natural disasters, such as reducing tsunami waves, and now even over man-made disasters like the oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Here's part of a message Dreamhealer sent out to his followers on May 12, 2010:

There are thousands of people on this newsletter who understand the power of intentions. We are summoning everyone to send their intentions for a successful repair job for this oil leak. Let's set May 13th and 14th at 7pm your local time to send intention to see this leak stopped. Set everything aside for at least 5 minutes and visualize the leak being sealed and the engineers being successful. For those who can stay with this visualization we would like you to continue the same visualizations for May 15th and 16th at 7pm your local time. "It is time for some good news on this issue."
On May 14th he sent this follow-up message with a link to a video to help with visualizing intentions:

We have put together a short video  to help you focus your intentions to stop the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Please focus your intentions at 7pm (your local time) May 14th, 15th and 16th, as shown on the video. Keep this visualization in your awareness throughout the next few days and longer. Integrate your own memories of beautiful oceans, sea-life, and successful engineering feats and mechanical insights to personalize your visualizations. See this happening preferably when you are in your meditative state, or relaxed state for visualizations.

"Engage and Empower yourself, knowing that your intentions will make a difference."

1: Visualize the recovery pipe being lowered over the leak.

2: Visualize the oil being forced onto the awaiting oil tankers.

3: BP then seals the connector over the leak.

On May 15th he sent this follow-up message:

Thanks for your continued focus on stopping the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. We have updated the visualization on youtube which you could use for this purpose. We urge everyone to stay positive and focused on our main objective at this stage, which is to stop the leak. Create your own visualizations and modify with what resonates with you. Visualize with everyone on May 13, 14, 15 and 16 at 7pm your local time. Keep your visualizations in your awareness for as long as possible after these dates.
On May 17th Adam sent out another message to his followers saying that their intentions and visualizations were starting to work:

Much gratitude to the thousands who took the time to visualize a successful connection to the oil leak (gusher) in the Gulf of Mexico. A BP response to the oil spill now shows the first glimpse at containment of the oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico. Undersea robotic equipment successfully inserted a four-inch pipe into the Horizon well's "riser," which was leaking several thousand barrels of oil a day into the gulf. This is a temporary fix and we all have to work on the total elimination of the oil leak.

Our planet has been given a small reprieve from the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The damage to the ecosystem, the lives of those who depend on the ocean and the planet makes it clearer than ever that changes need to be made. Keep sending your focused intentions toward cleaning the mess up and giving politicians the courage to set a course toward clean energy. We have to change the voices that say "it can't be done" to voices that say "we can do it." Be confident when you visualize that the power of many others is with you. Mankind must learn something from this experience and become more focused on making our planet a safer and cleaner place to live.

In that same message Adam included a 'testimonial' from one of his followers, similar to those he included in messages falsely claiming success for reducing those waves headed to Hawaii:

Your suggestion to visualize to cap the oil leak was such a wonderful idea. With people all over the world concentrating on this visualization made it a reality. On the third night, May 16th, at 7:21 pm EST, CBS announced that the hookup was a success and that oil was being moved out through the pipe into a waiting ship. I was so excited that I started yelling to my husband, "We did it! We did it! It worked! Adam's visualization and all of the people doing this at the same time worked! What a wonderful thing to do for humanity and ecology. Thank you Adam for planting this seed in our minds and for the example of how we were to see it happening. You are going to go forward and show people that they can accomplish great things by just "seeing them happen." - Cross of Light Lady

That all sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Some quantum kook from Canada gets naive believers to visualize the oil gusher and focus their best intentions on the efforts to fix it, and hocus pocus: “We did it! We did it! It worked!” The only problem is that it didn't work. In his haste to declare success for his wishful thinking exercise, even if indirectly by quoting an eager acolyte, it seems Adam was persuaded by BP's propaganda, both on the size of the gusher and the effectiveness of their efforts so far to fix it. It is easy to see why Adam so easily falls for such corporate spin-doctoring since his intentions are now tied to BP's success.

It is now over a month since BP's oil platform exploded and oil began to gush into the gulf. It is becoming clear that BP has been covering-up and lying about the amount of oil that is gushing. They recently revised their estimate up to 5,000 barrels a day, up from their previous claim of 3,000 barrels a day. That is an awful lot of oil, but nowhere near the true amount. Scientists have more realistically estimated the gusher at 70,000 to 100,000 barrels a day. Now, who are you going to believe? The oil company with a vested interest in downplaying the disaster, or scientists with no interest other than in the facts?

So far, BP's efforts have failed to sufficiently stem the flow, which means there could be upwards of 3 million barrels of oil and counting spilled, with no end in sight. To save their investments, rather than the environment, BP has been trying one untested solution after another, which have all failed. They continue to explore other options into the second month of the gusher, except the only option that is most likely to work: blowing up the well. Explosions have been used for the last 100 years in the oil industry to seal runaway wells on land, and the Russians have done it to underwater wells at least 4 times using nuclear bombs, but conventional explosions might work just as well. However, that would mean the well would be sealed permanently and BP would lose millions in investments and assets, as well as access to all the remaining oil. Unless forced to by the U.S. government, I doubt very much BP would willingly choose that option. It seems BP is engaged in its own form of wishful thinking in trying to plug the well. Perhaps they should give Dreamhealer a call.

Update on Thursday, June 3, 2010

How long before the only option left is a nuclear explosion?

The New York Times reports that U.S. officials have not considered the nuclear option for stopping the oil gusher:
Government and private nuclear experts agreed that using a nuclear bomb would be not only risky technically, with unknown and possibly disastrous consequences from radiation, but also unwise geopolitically — it would violate arms treaties that the United States has signed and championed over the decades and do so at a time when President Obama is pushing for global nuclear disarmament.
It seems to me that first and foremost in their minds are the geopolitical issues rather than the environmental ones. Right now there are unknown, wide-spread disastrous consequences resulting from all of the failed efforts so far, and with hurricane season fast approaching no one knows how that will impact an already dire situation. So, it seems disingenuous for them to say they won't consider the nuclear option because of unknown consequences. After all, hasn't the U.S. conducted nuclear tests for decades? Surely there must be some useful data collected along the way that they could apply to this disaster. And although the Russian's success with nuclear explosions involved gas wells on land as opposed to oil wells on the seabed, certainly some of that experience and data could be useful in this situation.

The latest attempts by BP have actually made the situation worse, with up to 20 percent more oil gushing out. BP estimates it could be August before the well is sealed, but BP can no longer be trusted to give accurate information. It is entirely possible that nothing BP does will work and oil will continue to gush into the Gulf of Mexico indefinitely, and spread from there. What are the disastrous consequences of that? It may be that the nuclear option will only be considered once all other ideas are exhausted, but by then it may be too late.

Financial Post - Reuters July 2, 2010

Should BP nuke its leaking well?

by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Ben Judah, Alina Selyukh | Reuters

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON -- His face wracked by age and his voice rasping after decades of chain-smoking coarse tobacco, the former long-time Russian Minister of nuclear energy and veteran Soviet physicist Viktor Mikhailov knows just how to fix BP's oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

"A nuclear explosion over the leak," he says nonchalantly puffing a cigarette as he sits in a conference room at the Institute of Strategic Stability, where he is a director. "I don't know what BP is waiting for, they are wasting their time. Only about 10 kilotons of nuclear explosion capacity and the problem is solved."

A nuclear fix to the leaking well has been touted online and in the occasional newspaper op-ed for weeks now. Washington has repeatedly dismissed the idea and BP execs say they are not considering an explosion -- nuclear or otherwise. But as a series of efforts to plug the 60,000 barrels of oil a day gushing from the sea floor have failed, talk of an extreme solution refuses to die.

For some, blasting the problem seems the most logical answer in the world. Mr. Mikhailov has had a distinguished career in the nuclear field, helping to close a Soviet Union program that used nuclear explosions to seal gas leaks. Ordinarily he's an opponent of nuclear blasts, but he says an underwater explosion in the Gulf of Mexico would not be harmful and could cost no more than US$10-million. That compares with the US$2.35-billion BP has paid out in cleanup and compensation costs so far. "This option is worth the money," he says.

And it's not just Soviet boffins. Milo Nordyke, one of the masterminds behind U.S. research into peaceful nuclear energy in the 1960s and '70s says a nuclear explosion is a logical last-resort solution for BP and the government. Matthew Simmons, a former energy advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush and the founder of energy investment-banking firm Simmons & Company International, is another calling for the nuclear option.

Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton has voiced support for the idea of an explosion to stem the flow of oil, albeit one using conventional materials rather than nukes. "Unless we send the Navy down deep to blow up the well and cover the leak with piles and piles and piles of rock and debris, which may become necessary ... unless we are going to do that, we are dependent on the technical expertise of these people from BP," Mr. Clinton told the Fortune/Time/CNN Global Forum in South Africa on June 29.

Mr. Clinton was picking up on an idea mooted by Christopher Brownfield in June. Mr. Brownfield is a one-time nuclear submarine officer, a veteran of the Iraq war (he volunteered in 2006) and now a nuclear policy researcher at Columbia University. He is also one of a number of scientists whose theories rely not on nuclear bombs -- he did toy with that thought for a while -- but on conventional explosives that would implode the well and, if not completely plug it with crushed rock, at least bring the flow of oil under control. "It's kind of like stepping on a garden hose to kink it," Mr. Brownfield says. "You may not cut off the flow entirely but it would greatly reduce the flow."


Using nuclear blasts for peaceful ends was a key plank of Cold War policy in both the United States and the Soviet Union. In the middle of last century, both countries were motivated by a desire to soften the image of the era's weapon of choice.

Washington had big plans to use peaceful nuclear explosions to build an additional Panama Canal, carve a path for an inter-state highway through mountains in the Mojave Desert and connect underwater aquifers in Arizona. But the experimental plans were dropped as authorities learned more about the ecological dangers of surface explosions.

The Soviet program, known as Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy, was launched in 1958. The project saw 124 nuclear explosions for such tasks as digging canals and reservoirs, creating underground storage caverns for natural gas and toxic waste, exploiting oil and gas deposits and sealing gas leaks. It was finally mothballed by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989.

The Soviets first used a nuclear blast to seal a gas leak in 1966. Urtabulak, one of its prized gas-fields in Uzbekistan, had caught fire and raged for three years. Desperate to save the cherished reserves, Yefim Slavsky, then Minister of Light Industry, ordered nuclear engineers to use the most powerful weapon in their arsenal.

"The Minister said, 'Do it. Put it out. Explode it,'" recalls Albert Vasilyev, a young engineer and a rising star in the project who now teaches at the Lenin Technical Institute in Moscow.

Mr. Vasilyev remembers the technology behind the program with obvious pride. "The explosion takes place deep underground," he says. "We pinch the pipe, break it and the pipe collapses." According to Mr. Vasilyev, the blast at Urtabulak sealed the well shut leaving only an empty crater.


In all, the Soviets detonated five nuclear devices to seal off runaway gas wells -- succeeding three or four times, depending on who you talk to. "It worked quite well for them," says Nordyke, who authored a detailed account of Soviet explosions in a 2000 paper. "There is no reason to think it wouldn't be fine (for the United States)."

But not everything went smoothly. Mr. Vasilyev admits the program "had two misfires". The final blast in 1979 was conducted near the Ukrainian city of Kharkov. "The closest houses were just about 400 meters away," Mr. Vasilyev recalls. "So this was ordered to be the weakest of the explosions. Even the buildings and the street lamps survived." Unfortunately, the low capacity of the device failed to seal the well and the gas resurfaced.

Alexander Koldobsky, a fellow nuclear physicist from the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute, insists the peaceful nuclear explosions were safe. The people who worked on the program "were brilliant professionals", he says. "They had a culture of safety, which did not accept the word 'maybe', but only accepted the words 'obligation' and 'instruction.' Any derivation from these in nuclear technologies is a crime."

Still, he concedes, "there were different scenarios of what happened after an explosion." At his first blast in a Turkmen gas field in 1972, "the stench was unbearable," he says. "And the wind was blowing toward a nearby town." He closes his narrow lips into a smile as if refusing to say more.

Mr. Koldobsky shrugs off any suggestion of fear or emotion when the bomb exploded. "I felt nothing. I was just doing my job."


Not everybody is so sanguine about the Soviet experience. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an expert from Russia's largest oil exporter Rosneft, urges the United States to ignore calls for the atomic option. "That would bring Chernobyl to America," he says.

Vladimir Chuprov from Greenpeace's Moscow office is even more insistent that BP not heed the advice of the veteran Soviet physicists. Mr. Chuprov disputes the veterans' accounts of the peaceful explosions and says several of the gas leaks reappeared later. "What was praised as a success and a breakthrough by the Soviet Union is in essence a lie," he says. "I would recommend that the international community not listen to the Russians. Especially those of them that offer crazy ideas. Russians are keen on offering things, especially insane things."

Former Minister Mikhailov agrees that the USSR had to give up its program because of problems it presented. "I ended the program because I knew how worthless this all was," he says with a sigh. "Radioactive material was still seeping through cracks in the ground and spreading into the air. It wasn't worth it."

"Still," he says, momentarily hard to see through a cloud of smoke from his cigarettes, "I see no other solution for sealing leaks like the one in the Gulf of Mexico."

The problem, he goes on, is that "Americans just don't know enough about nuclear explosions to solve this problem ... But they should ask us -- we have institutes, we have professionals who can help them solve this. Otherwise BP are just torturing the people and themselves."


Mr. Nordyke too believes the nuclear option should be on the table. After seeing nine U.S. nuclear explosions and standing behind the control board of one, he estimates that a nuclear bomb would have roughly an 80 to 90% chance of successfully blocking the oil. According to his estimates, it would have to be an explosion of around 30 kilotons, equivalent to roughly two Hiroshima bombs or three times as big as Mikhailov's estimate. The explosion would also need to remain at least 3 to 4 miles away from other offshore wells in the area.

The bomb, says Mr. Nordyke, would be dropped in a secondary well approximately 60-70 feet away from the leaking shaft. There it would create a large cavity filled with gas. The gas would melt the surrounding rock, crush it and press it into the leaking well to close it shut.

Although the BP well is thousands of feet deeper than those closed in the Soviet Union, Mr. Nordyke says the extra depth shouldn't make a difference. He also says that so far below the ground, not much difference exists in onshore or underwater explosions -- even though the latter have never been tried.

Mr. Nordyke says fears that radiation could escape after the explosion are unfounded. The hole would be about 8 inches in diameter and, despite the shockwave, the radiation should remain captured. Even in the case of radiation escape, he says, its dispersed effect would be less than that of floating oil patches.


But don't expect an explosion under the Gulf of Mexico any time soon. Even a conventional blast could backfire and cause more problems. There is a chance any blast could fracture the seabed and cause an underground blowout, according to Andy Radford, petroleum engineer and American Petroleum Institute senior policy adviser on offshore issues. The U.S. Department of Energy has no plans to use explosives "due to the obvious risks involved," according to a DOE spokeswoman.

There's also the question of time. Preparations for a nuclear explosion could take up to half-a-year; BP has said it will have a relief well in place to stop the leak by August. "I think it has to be considered as only the last resort," Mr. Nordyke says. But "they ought to be thinking about it."

Would he be willing to work on such an operation? "I'd be happy to help," he says.

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