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BP returns to 'top hat', weighs unconventional methods

A contract worker picks up oil washed ashore on a public beach in Dauphin Island, Ala.

BP is returning to the 'top hat' method it abandoned last month in its latest attempt to plug the Gulf oil leak. It's abandoning use of the diamond wire saw, which was supposed to make a clean cut but jammed in use.

The diamond-tipped saw worked 5,000 under the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, spending most of the day stuck inside an oil pipe. The top hat, which was first put out of commission on May 12, is a containment dome smaller than the one previous used that failed to stop the leak. The device will be placed over the leak in attempts to channel the liquid through a pipe to the surface for collection. The container is 5 feet tall and weighs less than two tons, according to CNN.

Plans are in the works to deploy Dutch technology that would use giant skimmers attached to large ships. The skimmers suck in a combination of oil and water, separate the two and spit the water back out. Ships fitted with the skimmers will head out from Houston soon.

Trying the unconventional

BP has received at least 38,000 unconventional ideas from around the world to stop the oil leak, including the use of oil-eating bacteria around the pipe and absorbing the oil with tons of human hair. Director James Cameron, known for disaster movies like "Titanic" and the underwater thrill "The Abyss", also sat in on brainstorming sessions to come up with a creative solutions for plugging the pipe. Cameron offered use of a fleet of small, remote-controlled submarines that were used in his movies, but was inevitably turned down by BP, according to Reuters.

"I know really, really, really smart people that work typically at depths much greater than what that well is at," Cameron said. Cameron knows many experts in underwater technology who are accustomed to operating various underwater vehicles and electronic optical fiber systems. "Most importantly," he added, "they know the engineering that it requires to get something done at that depth."

Cameron wants the government to take a more active role in handling the oil crisis and monitoring the leak. "Because if you're not monitoring it independently, you're asking the perpetrator to give you the video of the crime scene," Cameron said.

Peter Kemp, editor of Energy Intelligence, says BP won't necessarily dismiss ideas from the outside. "I'm sure BP is looking at every single idea, trying to sift through and evaluate the best strategy to adopt next given the terrible failure rate hitherto."

Perhaps the most alarming idea to reach the oil company was a nuclear explosion over the wellhead, a method which has worked in Russia. BP says it has no plans to use a nuclear explosion as a solution to the crisis.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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