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Published on May 20, 2010

Opinion: Oil spill aftermath—rubber's chance to shine



AKRON (May 20, 2010) — Golf balls and shredded tires to stop the 200,000 or so gallons of oil from spurting out of the BP Deep Horizon oil well each day? I love it—rubber to the rescue.

The inshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico that are under threat are among my favorite regions. I love all things Louisiana and most things Florida (not a big resort fan) and have driven along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts—especially Mobile Bay—way too fast. I'm all for trying anything to stop that oil well from spewing the toxic remains of the dinosaur era into the Gulf and putting livelihoods and wildlife at risk.

Oysters? Shrimp? Fish? Birds? Sure, everyone is worried about the effect on them. I'm also concerned about worms on the bottom, sea urchins, sea wasps—all the critters, to use the local vernacular, that live in the water column. The satellite photos of the spreading oil show what it looks like on the water's surface, not what's going on underneath. At this stage, no one knows.

While it's still far away, I'm worried that this thing may spread to the Flower Garden Banks, a coral reef system 120 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, where I've been threatening to go diving.

What a mess.

Fact is, I've been concerned since all this began that the rubber industry image could get tarnished. Rubber seals and packing are key components of blowout preventers for offshore wells. I just hope when, or perhaps if, they figure out why the blowout preventer didn't work, it wasn't because of rubber seals. Failed seals on the Challenger Space Shuttle was disaster enough.

Since the “Big Dome” four-story structure hasn't worked to contain the oil, the latest ideas are to use a smaller “Top Hat” device, and then try the “Junk Shot”—golf balls and tire shards blasted into the opening to divert the oil flow, which then is cemented over.

Jamming golf balls into a pipe a mile down in the deep blue (or black, as it were) sea sounds like a fine use of them to me, an admitted golf hater. Has anyone made a joke yet about what par is on a mile-deep well hole? I'll let the pros do that.

Using shredded tires also seems like an outstanding idea. The sea already has experience with whole tires, used as artificial reefs. Uh…maybe we should forget about that, since they had a tendency to break loose when Mother Nature kicked up, and ended up scouring the bottom wherever they roamed.

I hope this time rubber is the hero, and it happens soon. From my experience, the folks in the Gulf region will eat just about anything, but shrimp deep-fried in hydrocarbons sounds a bit too inventive even for them.

Ed Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.


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