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How golf balls took on the oil spill and lost

By Matthew Weiner for CNN
BP have tried (and failed) to use golf balls to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP have tried (and failed) to use golf balls to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • 'Junk shot' using golf balls, rope and tires to plug holes in oil well fails.
  • Golf balls selected because of small size and ability to withstand pressure.
  • BP's next plan is to send in underwater robot to cut pipe and cap it.

London (CNN) -- They can fly 300 yards through the air and have helped turn the likes of Tiger Woods into multi-millionaires, but it seems the powers of the golf ball don't end there.

For the last few days, BP have been using golf balls in an audacious attempt to plug the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which has been described by the Obama administration as probably "the biggest environmental disaster" the country has ever faced.

BP press officer Sheila Williams told CNN that the balls had been used part of a "junk shot" including shredded tires and knotted rope that were pumped into the well at high pressure to plug the leak. Mud and cement was then injected into the well to keep the junk in place.

Williams revealed that this process was carried out "a number of times" in conjunction with the U.S. coast guard before the oil giant admitted that the experiment had failed.

Golf balls were selected as part of the 'junk shot' because they are small enough to plug gaps between the rope and tires and strong enough to withstand the pressure of the oil which is gushing out with significant force.

Whether Titleist, Callaway or any other make (BP were unable to confirm either the brand or numbers used) golf balls are designed to withstand 2,000 pounds of force from a club making them a good candidate to withstand the high pressure oil leak.

Engineers first used the 'junk shot' to quell the 1991 Kuwait oil fires but never at such depths. The fact that the Deepwater Horizon leak is 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean is thought to be the reason the technique did not succeed. "I don't think we'll be using golf balls again," commented Williams. US President Barack Obama said the failure of the earlier "top kill" plan was "heartbreaking".

I don't think we'll be using golf balls again
--BP press officer Sheila Williams

The spill started over a month ago when the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire and exploded, killing 11 workers. Over 40 days on and BP have still to stop the leak. BP has spent more than £600m trying to stem the estimated 5,000 barrels of oil per day flowing out from the wellhead.

Previous failed attempts have included a coffer dam, a tube to suck the oil up to the surface and top kill. BP will next try to cap the well using an underwater robot that will try to cut the leaking pipe and place a cap over it -- a process known as deploying the Lower Marine Riser Package Cap Containment System.

BP said that the cost of tackling the spill had increased to $930 million. The final cost, including legal damages arising from the accident, is still uncertain. The US Government recently released data showing that the oil was leaking at up to 19,000 barrels per day, nearly four times higher than BP's previous estimate of 5,000 barrels.

The oil giant initially claimed after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22 that just 1,000 barrels per day were leaking from the well. The latest figures indicate that between 18.6 million gallons and 29.5 million gallons of crude oil have leaked into the sea, outstripping the 11 million gallons spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.