29 May 2010

Matt Simmons Proposes First Strike…

All Posts 18 Comments

…on the oil leak. (HT2 von Pepe)

I don’t know enough about nuclear weapons to say whether his idea makes sense.

18 Responses to “Matt Simmons Proposes First Strike…”

  1. Taylor says:

    It’s exceedingly comical that anyone is paying any serious attention to a man who looks to the way communist nationalized oil producers decide to respond to their oil leaks for an example on how anyone else should respond. I mean, this is an environmental disaster, right? And the Soviets had a great environmental record, right?


    One thing I do know about nuclear weapons– they weren’t originally designed to clog oil leaks on the sea floor.

  2. Bob Murphy's Love Child says:

    Where is Chuck Norris when you need him most?

  3. Bob Murphy's Love Child says:


    Many will argue that this oil sill is a very strong case for regulation, and an example of where government is needed. As a man who has written a book on market anarchy (interesting book, btw), what would your take be on this oil spill? How is something like this handled in such a society? Private property insurance and lawsuits against violators? Do insurance companies discount or hike premiums based on what safety regulations are in place at the drilling sites?

  4. Matt Flipago says:

    So the Russians doing oil drilling in the barren waist lands of the arctic sea, had numerous oil spills, while we have had only one, and people think that the radiation would destroy the environment. There are no shrimp farms in the arctic sea, I’ll tell you that..

  5. K Sralla says:

    Mr. Simmons has given what I believe is one of the stupidest comments by any so-called “knowledgeable expert” yet. First, let me say that the nuclear weapons idea as a remedy to this blowout shows incredible ignorance, even from an investment banker. The only thing that I can even remotely guess is that someone suggested to Mr. Simmons that blowout experts sometimes use explosives to control blowouts. The logic must go something like this: Small blowouts needs small explosives, so a large blowout must need a much larger explosives. However, everyone needs to realize that explosives are used to put out oil well *fires* at the surface, not plug the wells. The only thing that a large explosion on the ocean floor will do is to pulverize the BOP stack, and make the well impossible to plug properly from the surface.

    Here is the *only* surefire rememdy to the problem: BP will drill a relief well into the existing wellbore about 3 miles below the ocean floor to relieve the bottomhole pressure. They will then drill a second kill well into the existing wellbore which will allow a heaving slug of drilling mud to be pumped into the well , which will kill off the flow from the bottom. This is a method which is used many, many times in blowout contingencies, and the chances that it will kill the well permanantly are near 100% if successfully executed. The kill will require calculating the density of mud necessary to exert enough hydrostatic pressure to overcome the high bottomhole pressure coming from the productive oil formation.

    Once the well is dead at the surface, engineers will need a functional BOP to re-enter the well and pump several cement plugs from the surface to secure it permanantly.

    Folks, the U.S. Army has 0 people with any petroleum engineering expertise. The only time in the history of the U.S. where the military was involved in oil and gas operations occured at the end of World War 2, when the U.S. Navy assembled a group of engineers and geologists to drill for oil and gas in Alaska (NPRA). That group has been disbanded for 50 years, and all their oil and gas engineering expertise is no longer present in the U.S. military. The MMS does (did) have some qualified professionals who would possess the theoretical knowledge to undertake the “kill” calculations, but these people are largely office personell who do not have the experience to direct an technical operation of this sort.

    Folks, this incident shows that the emperor (the government) has no clothes. Just as the federal reserve lacks the knowledge and skill to regulate the money supply, so too does the government lack the knowledge and skill to kill this blowout. All it can do is send pretty people in front of the television camera to give propaganda.

    Finally, let me be the first to cut through the madness, and tell everyone with certainly that there will be almost 0 long term (2-10 years) environmental damage done by the oil from this spill. Notice, I did not say economic disruption. That is Bob Murphy’s expertise, and I will let him wax eloquent on the economics of the oil on the beaches. Efforts to remediate oil in the marshes and wetlands of Louisianna are largely an exersize in wasted money. Aerobic bacteria, sunlight, and saltwater will dissipate this oil so rapidly, it will be almost like magic how quickly it dissapears.

  6. K Sralla says:

    I listened again to this man’s incredibly ill-advised statements. It is hard to believe that he is considered a “foremost expert” in oil and gas issues. And to answer your question Bob, no, his idea is incredibly stupid. If these ideas came from “top scientists” I would like to know who they are, since if I ever meet them at a conference, I will run for my life.

    The idea makes no sense whatsoever. First, there is no way to lower an explosive devise or any other object into a well that is flowing to the surface at 10K psig. Secondly, if we could magically do so, the explosion would rupture the wellbore downhole, and cause a subsurface blowout which might risk rupturing to the surface away from the wellhead where it will be much more difficult to shut off.

    Someone supporting such a notion is either insane or incredibly ignorant of basic petroleum geology or engineering.

    • bobmurphy says:

      BTW I assume it’s the same guy; Simmons is one of the biggest proponents of peak oil theory. So that’s his claim to fame.

      Also I think the news anchors cut the interview short once he started talking about nuclear bombs.

    • bobmurphy says:

      K Sralla you need to tell these Russians that the jig is up. You are on to their hoax.

  7. K Sralla says:

    Wow! My brother tells me the Russians are also using bacteriophage to treat infections. The next time one of us has a serious case of strep throat, let’s both tell our American doctor that we don’t want antibiotics, and instead let’s each demand the phage. You go first though, and let me know how it works on your strep throat.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Nope K Sralla I’m not buying your answer here. I’m NOT claiming you are wrong about whether nukes would work. What I am saying is that from your initial responses–“What kind of scientists is Simmons talking about? I want to run for my life!”–you made it sound as if this was some nutjob theory Simmons had invented. You didn’t say, “Yes the Russians have stopped leaks on land with nuclear explosions, but blah blah blah.”

      So I’m saying after your initial responses, I was quite surprised to see the documentary, bad as it may have been. You certainly made it sound as if Simmons got the idea from Isaac Asimov, and not from the fact that apparently the Russians have used nuclear weapons to stop natural gas leaks.

  8. K Sralla says:

    OK. I have been on vacation and out of radar range, but it seems like this idea has hit the news in a big way with Andy Revkin writing about it on DotEarth. Let me say again, this time brandishing my professional qualifications as a structural geologist/geophysicist who is employeed by big oil. The idea of using a nuclear weapon to plug this well is very stupid. I could write a dissertation on the reasons why, but if my word is not good enough, and someone wants to challenge what I am about to say, go ahead and fire away.

    Yes, the Russians claimed they tried this and it worked in several instances. What they did not show you were any geological studies describing exactly what happened beneath the surface. Their nice little cartoon does not impress real geologists.

    It is quite clear from the video, that the surface seismic wave caused by the underground nuclear explosion literally liquified the ground surface for an instant. The subsurface fractures created from the explosion no doubt breached the petroleum reservoir away from the epicenter, allowing the pressure and fluids from the gas-saturated reservoir to leak up into other lower pressure permeable strata. Fracturing created by such a high energy blast is by nature highly non-linear, and dissipation of this energy (entropy) is impossible to model effectively. This means its effects cannot be predicted with any certainly ahead of time, and the modification of the subsurface geology and flow regime of the petroleum reservoir will vary greatly from example to example. The takehome message for the interested layman is that one time such a procedure might work to shut off a surface flow, and in another situation, the same explosive energy might cause a secondary man-made disaster which is much worse than the first.

    It is very feasible scenario, that given the just right intial conditions, the induced fractures created by the explosion at depth could merge back into the upper portion of the wellbore still providing a conduit to the shallow subsurface and allow an even greater “stimulated” flow of hydrocarbons to breach the shallow permeable sandstone formations prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico basin, with the flow finally rupturing at the surface, forming a large crater(s), with oil flowing upward through multiple fractures to the shallower subsurface and finally emerging from the ocean floor away from the existing wellhead. This would be a true nightmare scenario, where it would become almost impossible to stop the entire 500 MMBO accumulation of oil from becoming liberated to the surface.

    Please trust me and many of my professional colleagues when we say that the idea floated by Simmons and others is stupid beyond measure. The conventional subsurface kill procedure that I have outlined above will work just fine, without any of the risks of nasty secondary side effects.

    • bobmurphy says:

      BTW K Sralla, are you saying that professionals can’t understand why BP is acting so stupidly? (I’m not being sarcastic.) I’ve been toying with a completely unverified (unverifiable?) conspiracy theory that says this is very convenient if Congress wants to push through energy legislation. Just like both Austrians and monetarists can’t understand what the heck Bernanke is doing… Do both oil engineers and environmentalists not understand BP/FedGov’s response to the oil spill?

      “I mean, it’s like Bernanke/BP want a crisis to linger for months and months and months…”


  9. K Sralla says:


    What are you getting at here? Are you playing gotcha? If so, play it with someone else. My original statement was based on some detailed knowledge of some poorly-publicized 1960’s American underground nuclear tests related to artificial fracturing of petroleum reservoirs, plus 20 years of experience as an award-winning structural geologist in the oil industry, bringing with me some intimate familiarity with the artificial fracture stimulation of petroleum reservoirs. I was simply trying to add the perspective of a practicing professional geoscientist who may have a little more knowledge on this subject than you or your average reader. I thought you or your readers might be interested to hear my perspective. It looks like I was wrong.

    Here is an overview of the background knowledge that went into my initial statement regarding Simmon’s proposal:

    For many years I have been aware that the Russians had experimented with nuclear weapons in the their oil industry during the cold war, if not fully up to speed with the exact details. I was/am much more familiar with our own petroleum industry tests with nuclear weapons during the cold war right here in the good ol’ USA. In fact, one of the rock mechanics firms that I work with very closely got their start doing rock geomechanical testing for nuclear blasts in New Mexico and Utah during the Cold War. One of the famous projects was called “Gasbuggy”, and was funded largely by a consortium of US major companies including Conoco, piggybacking on an AEC 29 KT blast near Farmington New Mexico in the 1960’s. It was based on some detailed knowledge of these 1960’s American tests, plus 20 years of experience as an award-winning structural geologist in the oil industry that I made the statement that Simmon’s suggestion to the national media was the stupidest idea that I have heard yet. I stand by that claim.

    Now that we have that out of the way, I say again that the idea to use nuclear weapons to plug the BP blowout is nutty for the reasons I have summarized in a previous post. Again, if I ever meet up with “the top scientists” who apparently recommended such a procedure to Mr. Simmons, I will run for my life. These must be the same “top men” who are keeping the ark of the covenant hidden in a Washington D.C. warehouse. Can I express my opinion in any more dogmatic terms? The idea expressed by Simmons is stupid and dangerous.

    P.S. I don’t believe for a minute that any credentialed (Western) petroleum geologist or engineer would have suggested such a thing to Mr. Simmons. One of his Russian contacts might have mentioned it to him, but I would bet money this guy was not a geologist or petroleum engineer.

  10. bobmurphy says:

    K Sralla, please calm down. I am not asking you to prove your bona fides. I have never said you were wrong about the suggestion being good.

    OK for real, please calmly look at what you originally wrote. I want you to understand my reaction. In response to Simmons saying we should use nuclear weapons, you said:

    “First, let me say that the nuclear weapons idea as a remedy to this blowout shows incredible ignorance, even from an investment banker. The only thing that I can even remotely guess is that someone suggested to Mr. Simmons that blowout experts sometimes use explosives to control blowouts. The logic must go something like this: Small blowouts needs small explosives, so a large blowout must need a much larger explosives.”

    So I’m surprised that you said that. Couldn’t Simmons’ “logic” have gone something like this: There exist documentaries in which the Russians claim they have used nuclear weapons to plug leaks, just like Simmons claimed?

    To give you an analogy, if you told me someone at a dinner party suggested 0% interest rates and massive deficits as a way to cure the economy, I wouldn’t say, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. Who in the heck did this guy talk to? I can’t even imagine where he got that idea. I guess it’s like, having 0 speeding tickets is good, and so he thinks having 0% interest rates is good too. What an idiot.”

    Can you see why that would be a weird response for me to give, even though I DO think Keynesian policies are stupid and won’t work?

    I think you are misreading the tone of my posts. Again, I’m not challenging your geology cred, I’m just saying I think you unfairly characterized Simmons’ point. He wasn’t making up crazy stuff off the top of his head, he was just repeating what a bunch of people (not necessarily US scientists) are saying.

  11. K Sralla says:

    I’ll give you that point. Simmons obviously had someone tell him that the Russians did such and such with nuclear explosives, and it might need to be tried here.

    You must realize though, how completely luny tunes all this sounds to people who spend the majority of their life studying rocks and petroleum geology. When someone starts talking about ” nuclear weaponizing” a plug for an oilwell, my first reaction (and that of most of my colleagues that I talked to about this) was to have a good belly laugh and make a mental note of just how completely unhinged from the real world some supposedly bright people are, and how little most everyday people (and some oil and gas investment bankers) understand about the exploration and production of oil and gas.

    • bobmurphy says:

      OK and I should not have said “I don’t buy this” or whatever, making it sound like I thought you were ignorant of the issue. All I’m saying is that from your original post, I thought Simmons himself invented this nutjob concept off the top of his head. So I was drawing the wrong conclusion about the state of opinion (perhaps ILL-INFORMED opinion) on this topic.

      Let me put it this way: Suppose the Bloomberg producer after the interview called up Simmons’ office and said, “What the heck were you talking about?! Our credibility as a network is shot!” I think Simmons could’ve sent that documentary to cover himself. It’s true, maybe the documentary is bogus, but Simmons could say, “Now we’re just refereeing among professional geologists. I’m an investment banker, man, and the Russians apparently did this.”

  12. K Sralla says:


    I’m back from vacation now, so let me try to put this to bed. At 2:26 on the interview, Simmons says that “*all* of the best scientists who have thought about this in the last couple of days (have suggested creating a weapon system)”: With that statement, Simmons lost all credibility instantly with me. His statement was flatly false, if not an all out whopper to the national media. I work around some of the best petroleum geologists and engineers in the industry, and I personally know of *nobody* (that I know or work with, and the oil industry is a relatively small place where many of us know each other through a close network of professionals) who has seriously suggested this, even in casual conversation, much less in a serious way. Therefore Simmons is clearly engaing in hyperbole in a manner which the general public might easily mistakenly take as a fact. When I first heard this, I was first trying to give him the benefit of the doubt as to why he might have believed that “all the best scientists” were recommending a nuclear weapon system. I speculated on a possible reason why he might have mistakenly believed this, or misunderstood what engineers might have told him. The first thing that came to my mind was that he somehow had gotten kill operations of surface blowouts confused with the current problem in the Gulf of Mexico. It now looks like my speculation was wrong, and that someone actually told him about the Russians, and their incredibly stupid, crazy, and draconian Cold War experiments on plugging blowouts. However he learned about this, it is hardly the same as “all top scientists” suggesting such a solution “within the last few days”. Bob, this was a delusional and false statement made by Simmons, that I hope you understand came across to me as completely nutty if not all out intentionally misleading. When someone with the international reputation of Matthew Simmons spouts off like this, it is flatly irresponsible. It makes me wonder about other issues that he may wildly and irresponsibly spout off about (Peak Oil???).

    Hope this helps.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Yes that clarifies things. I can see why you were so flustered.