Should the U.S. Navy blow up the Macondo oil well?

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 By

Military archival photo of the blast from an underwater nuclear weapon detonation, as taken from above the surface of the water. Is this what it will take to blow up the Macondo oil well?

While it may not require a nuke, underwater demolitions could be used to blow up the Macondo well, suggests Christopher Brownfield. (Photo: Wikipedia)

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece entitled “Blow Up the Well to Save the Gulf,” former nuclear submarine officer Christopher Brownfield draws our attention to what could be a better alternative for dealing with the BP oil spill. BP CEO Tony Hayward admitted to Congress that his company has no intention of plugging the ruptured Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico any longer. Instead, BP is going to take months to build a relief well that some experts predict may not even work. In light of BP and the Coast Guard’s inability to stem the tide of the oil leak, Brownfield makes a suggestion that gives the thinking human being pause. Why not give command of stopping the oil leak to the U.S. Navy?

‘Blow up the well,’ suggests Brownfield

Now is not the time to hesitate, suggests Brownfield; we should blow up the well. Thousands of barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day, and BP and the Coast Guard lack the resources and expertise to deal with high-powered demolitions of the sort needed to deal with the Macondo oil well effectively. Thus far, billions of dollars have been thrown at the problem, to only small effect.

According to Brownfield, BP and the Coast Guard would still have an important role to play, namely cleanup on the surface. But the U.S. Navy has resources like special submarines that could have obtained real-time info on the well – well in advance of the schedule BP chose to follow. Engineers from Naval Reactors – “the secretive program that is responsible for designing nuclear reactors for nuclear submarines,” says Brownfield – could have already dealt with how to blow up the well, if they’d been given leave to do so by President Obama.

Then conventional Navy demolitions could commence

This is not to say that a submarine fires a torpedo at the well and the blast seals off the oil well. No, Brownfield claims that it would require drilling a hole parallel to the Macondo well. Explosive charges (non-nuclear) could be lowered down into the new hole and detonated from a distance. Tons of explosives creating a “pressure wave hundreds of thousands of pounds per square inch” strong would implode BP’s big problem easily, sending so much rock into the well that the flow would be stopped like a giant foot stepping on a garden hose. Brownfield writes that the “expansion and collapse of explosive gases inside the hole would act like a hydraulic jackhammer, further pulverizing the rock.” Nuclear devices wouldn’t even be necessary; they’d be overkill, in Brownfield’s view, though Soviet Russia has used them successfully for this purpose before.

Best and worst case scenario

At best, if the Navy were to blow up the well, the flow would be stopped and long-term cleanup could progress toward an endgame. At worst, the explosions could punch a larger hole and increase the oil flow. But as former Naval nuclear sub officer Brownfield believes, “It’s virtually inconceivable that an explosive could blast a bigger hole than already exists and release even more oil,” when the geological features of the ocean bed around the Macondo well are taken into consideration. Considering how much money could be saved by abandoning ineffective capping techniques (not to mention stemming the tide so that damage to nature and the cost of long-term cleanup can be lessened), it seems the course is clear for politicians with the foresight and courage to give the green light.


New York Times

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This post has 13 comments

  1. JR says:

    "former Naval nuclear sub officer", what the hell does that mean? He was in charge of the laundry, what qualifications does this clown have? Besides, I love the way he dismissed the possibility that his explosion could just make things worse and not for a month but for a hundred years or more by fracturing the rock and making the spill cover a vast area rather than a 21inch hole, bother, they come out of the woodwork everytime.

    • tyler says:

      yea i agree,blowing a bigger hole in a situation where the hole is the problem,just keep containing and cleaning wat they can,there is a way to contain the problem.

  2. Jenn Griff says:

    I say nuke the puppy. People's income is being affected, and homes on the beaches are in a state of panic. It is clear that the patch up solutions are not working. This was something that worked in the 70's, give it a go now. What have we got to lose? Don't give me a bunch of crap about "what about wildlife" when people are going to be homeless due to lack of tourists in the areas. NUKE IT!

    • tyler says:

      theres potental to cause permenant damage that even patch work wont fix.exploding the well could possibaly release billions of years of fossil fuels into the oceons all at once,if the well doesnt implode in an ideal fashion sealing every nook

  3. Jason says:

    This is a crazy idea. A bomb should NOT be used on this well. Here's why:…

  4. David Ferrero says:

    They need to drop several HUGE CONCRETE DONUTS around the pipe,then HUGE CONCRETE

    CAPS on top of the DONUTS, TO SEAL THAT PIPE LEAK!!! NOW!!!

    (Even if it doesnt seal it completely,it will slow it down…)

    David Ferrero


  5. Hildy says:

    This is why the military shouldn't be involved. Nuclear may work by fusing the rock, is radiation contamination worse than a biodegradable oil leak? Standard charges would be the equivalent to a massive frac and would in essence stimulate the well. Much like what is being done to produce from very tight source reservoirs onshore.

    If you want to blow shtuff up save it for the people in the middle East once the GOM drilling moratorium revives the US dependence on foreign oil.

    • Steven Tarlow says:

      Hildy, BP and the Coast Guard cannot do the job acceptably. We've seen it play out for too long. Military action (non-nuclear) could get this done, it seems. Why wouldn't you pull the trigger on something like that?

  6. Chuck Stevens says:

    To see what a top U.S. expert says on the feasibility of utilizing a nuclear charge to end the oil blowout go to…
    Chuck Stevens

    • Steven Tarlow says:

      Chuck, it appears that Milo Nordyke also supports the nuclear option. While that sounds like it would work, is the risk of radiation worth it? If many tons of standard explosives are used, perhaps the same effect could be achieved, sans fallout.

      • Chuck Stevens says:

        Dear Steven, Milo Nordyke is recommending that we do studies of the possibility of utilizing a Peaceful Nuclear Explosive. This would include determining possible effects such as radiation release. The depth at which such a small device would be exploded is well below those regularly utilized in the Nevada Test Site in hundreds of tests with little or no release. But all aspects of such a procedure would have to be studied in detail. In any case, with BP sitting on the situational and geological data it is difficult to tell what is actually going on and what can be done about it. This should be immediately changed and all options carefully studied and prepared. The small physical size and ability to tailor its output over a much greater range of effects from heat to shock waves, e.g., means that Peaceful Nuclear Explosives have a far greater capability of providing a possible solution. To see an interview with Dr. Nordyke go to

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