The BP Oil Spill: Could someone get NASA on the phone?
June 16, 2010
On the evening of April 20, 2010, methane gas shot out of the drill column on one of BP’s offshore oil platforms, Deepwater Horizon. The gas quickly ignited into an explosive fireball. Thirty-six hours later the flaming platform sank a mile deep below the surface of the Gulf.
The fiery demise of Deepwater Horizon was only the opening chapter of an ongoing disaster that continues to release an estimated 20,000–40,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf each day, resulting in a deadly oil slick that covers over 2500 miles of surface area… and is still spreading.
To date, every attempt on BP’s part to stop or control the flow of oil has ended in failure. The only glimmer of hope for easing the crisis lies at best weeks, or more likely months away, with the completed drilling of relief wells. The challenge facing BP (and all who assist them in their effort) is just how to plug a leaking pipeline in waters so deep, the pressure could crush a submarine. It has been said that the task is much like attempting to thread a needle while wearing boxing gloves.
If the world ever needed inspired innovative problem solving, it is now!
Why is BP experiencing one failure after another at such a critical time? The obvious answer is that they have not arrived at a workable solution. Assuming the task is not an impossible one, the real fault lies in, or is at least exacerbated by, the company’s approach to problem solving. It appears that BP has approached this unprecedented challenge from a conventional industry problem solving mindset, rather than from highly creative and collaborative approach—a classic example of too much linear thinking, and not enough imagination.
Like a creature of habit, the company has attempted to adapt conventional land- and shallow water-based approaches to solve an extreme (unconventional) problem taking place 5000 feet below the surface. Meanwhile many thousands of unorthodox suggestions have been offered by inventors and creative problem solvers, only to be ignored by BP and the federal government—while the oil continues to flow.
Innovation, desperately needed in such an unprecedented event, is fueled by new ideas, not by rethinking or refashioning the status quo.
So if you had to choose one organization or government agency to rise up and take on this mission impossible, who would you call?
Our vote would have to go with NASA!
Why NASA? Who else has a proven track record of experience, expertise and ingenuity for solving tough challenges in the most remote and inhospitable environments in the universe?
Consider the Apollo 13 crisis, when an oxygen tank ruptured and severely damaged the command spacecraft on its way to the moon. The agency acted swiftly to transform the Lunar Landing Module into a "lifeboat" for the emergency return trip to Earth. Despite a near complete loss of cabin power and heat, shortage of drinkable water, and improvised fix of the carbon dioxide removal system, NASA used creativity and innovation to beat the odds and bring the astronauts safely home to Earth. Sounds a little like threading a needle while wearing boxing gloves. Clearly NASA has the Right Stuff!
There doesn’t seem to be an extreme challenge the agency can’t solve, whether it’s inventing fixes for bulky solar panels aboard the space station hundreds of miles above the earth, or jump-starting land rovers, 125,000,000 miles away on Mars, in -80 degree F temperatures.
If the Deepwater Horizon spill were approached from a completely new perspective (say by the men and women who designed and built the International space station?), is there really much doubt that a solution could be found? What’s a measly mile below the Gulf surface when you’ve successfully done rover repair 125,000,000 miles away?
The sooner BP begins to question their self-limiting assumptions, open their minds to new and different viewpoints, and starts to creatively collaborate with visionary idea partners, the sooner they will discover the innovative solution they and the world so desperately need.