Is it time to blow up the gushing BP oil well? Much like the oil spill itself, it's an idea that keeps spreading despite efforts by the Obama administration to contain it. Most recently, former president Bill Clinton voiced his support for the "just blow it up" solution.
It may become necessary to "send the Navy down deep to blow up the well and cover the leak with piles and piles and piles of rock and debris," Clinton said at a weekend forum hosted by several news organizations. "...Unless we're going to do that, we are dependent on the technical expertise of these people from BP."
Clinton's comments came weeks after government officials dismissed the explosive solution.
"I think we'd have to run out of a lot of things before we'd consider something like that," Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told "Good Morning America" earlier this month. He later said that even a non-nuclear explosion -- considered by some to be less controversial and less dangerous -- could also prove more hurtful than helpful.
Some who have floated the idea agree that it's risky, but ask whether explosives would be any worse than the status quo -- up to 60,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day and BP's efforts to drill relief wells to plug the leak are more than a month away from completion.
"At what point do the real damages that pile up outweigh the potential risks of something like weapons use a couple of thousand feet below the sea floor?" said Michael E. Webber, the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. Webber was among the first to publicly raise the possibility of using explosives to seal the BP well; he says that he does not necessarily support the idea, but maintains that it's worth consideration.
Here's how he and others say the explosives proposal could work: Near the failed BP Macado oil well, another hole would have to be drilled some 3,000 feet down. Explosives would then be lowered into that hole. Detonating those explosives would create a cavity below the sea floor that would envelop a section of the neighboring BP well and plug it with rubble.
In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Christopher Brownfield, a former nuclear submarine officer and a nuclear policy researcher at Columbia University, compared the solution to "stepping on a garden house (to stop) a stream of water."
But opponents of the solution, including BP itself, argue it's a lot more complicated than that. The explosion, they say, could potentially disturb rock formations that had helped contain some oil, resulting in new leaks.
"The problem with exploding a highly powerful device down there -- you essentially lose any and all control," a BP spokesman said. The explosion, he said, could create new "flow paths" for the oil.
"Now, instead of having leak coming from one wellhead, you would have it come from 100 different locations on the seafloor," said Paul Fischbeck, an oil platform expert and a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. "How do you stop that?"
Proponents counter that the depth at which the explosion would occur could prevent that possibility.
"If you go deep enough underground, nothing gets out," said former Air Force Secretary Hans Mark, now an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin specializing in national defense policy.