Use medical device technology to seal the Gulf oil leak

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May 16, 2010

It is now painfully obvious that the team of “expert engineers” working on ad hoc solutions to seal the oil-spewing pipe at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is incompetent. Saturday Night Live lampooned them on May 15th. British Petroleum (BP) needs to look outside the box and learn from surgeons and the medical device industry how to seal a tube leaking fluid; whether it be high pressure arterial blood or oil at the bottom of the sea.

Every trauma surgeon and vascular interventional doctor knows that the first thing to do to stop a gusher is to apply pressure to the leaking pipe. Doctors do not try to suck up the blood, store it in a vessel, then rapidly reinfuse it back into the patient (although this can be done in surgery, but not as the first step). The latest solution by BP is to insert a pipe into the leaking broken pipe, bring the oil to the surface, then store it in a tanker. This is an idiotic idea. BP should be focusing on ways to seal the pipe.

The medical device industry has invented catheter balloons that can apply massive amounts of pounds-per-square-inch pressure to surrounding walls: enough pressure to expand bone during kyphoplasty spine procedures. Within 24 hours, if a team of engineers from Medtronic were dispatched to the Gulf to advise the BP team, a crude rubber balloon bladder surrounding a “catheter” could be devised, inserted into the leaking oil pipes, inflated, and seal the oil leaks. BP, the White House, and the medical device industry need to make this happen ASAP.

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