On Sunday evening, BP announced a minor breakthrough in its efforts to corral the oil spewing from the Deepwater Horizon well. After two failed attempts, a team of underwater robots successfully threaded a mile-long tube into the gusher; as of Monday morning, the company said, the “insertion tube” was sending 1,000 barrels of oil per day up to a containment ship. In a press release, however, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar curbed their enthusiasm, saying that the robot-guided hose was “not a solution to the problem and it is not yet clear how successful it may be.”
If the tube-to-ship fix ultimately fails to stop the oil spill from spreading, it will be in good company. In the almost one month since Deepwater Horizon collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico, oil-company and government officials have hatched a litany of schemes to halt (or at least contain) the growing oil spill. Before the tube plan, a giant dome failed to curtail the leak when it got clogged by “deep-sea ice crystals.” BP is also planning to try a “top kill” of the well, which will require the deployment of “kill mud,” cement, and possibly golf balls and rubber tires. A Florida contractor proposed a plan to corral the oil that’s already leaked using barges, hay, and “a massive hay blower,” and a nonprofit is asking people to send in human hair, pet hair, and panty hose that will be fashioned into oil-collecting mats and containment booms.
OK, but what if none of that stuff works? Perhaps the U.S. Navy—with all of its high-tech, underwater gizmos—could get more involved in BP’s operations. Or what about economic incentives? Slate’s Jack Shafer argues that since BP has a liability cap of $75 million, the company has little motivation to come up with a pricy fix. If the cap were higher—much higher—the company would have a greater incentive to spend more money now on outlandish and creative solutions. Maybe the courts should be able to declare a property like Deepwater Horizon’s well “abandoned” if the owner isn’t making enough effort to prevent billions of dollars of damage to other people’s property. Or maybe the federal government should be able to auction off such a derelict property to the highest bidder. If the well can produce billions of dollars of oil, surely some company would be willing to spend handsomely to take it over and clean up this mess.
Got a better idea? Slate readers, please drop your genius thoughts on how to stop the oil spill into the comments below. What should BP and the federal government be doing that nobody has yet proposed? We’ll collect the best ideas in a future column.