The film director who created an idyllic unspoiled world in the movie Avatar will meet with deep-ocean experts Tuesday in Washington to pitch ideas about how to stop the ugly oil spill now spreading in the Gulf of Mexico.
James Cameron is expected to attend the meeting with fellow Canadian Phil Nuytten, an underwater innovator and the head of North Vancouver-based Nuytco Research.
It's not known what the two swashbuckling Canadians - who first met when Mr. Nuytten's company, Nuytco Research, built the submersibles used in Mr. Cameron's 1989 underwater thriller The Abyss - will bring to the discussion.
But as the environmental disaster in the Gulf continues to unfold, it seems the idea behind the session is to put every possible solution - including use of manned submersibles - on the table.
"This is not about undermining or finger-pointing at [British Petroleum]" Jeff Heaton, Nuytco's long-time chief pilot and the veteran of dozens of salvage and research dives in manned submersibles, said Tuesday in Vancouver.
"Everybody's working hard and it's not for lack of trying that [the spill]hasn't been stopped.
"It's about looking at all the what-ifs - if this fails, if that fails, what happens."
With the failure of the so-called "top kill" effort to plug the leak with mud, BP has moved on to a plan that involves cutting and removing a damaged part of the crippled Deepwater Horizon drill rig and putting a cap over the cleanly cut pipe. If successful, that approach would help stem the flow of oil while the company drills two relief wells, which are expected to be ready some time in August.
The drilling of those relief wells creates a whole new set of worries, including unintended fractures that would create additional leaks.
"If the rock formation that holds the oil has been cracked or compromised in any way, that pressure is going to find another way to get out," Mr. Heaton said. "And if it comes up through a crack or a seam, it could come up anywhere. And that's what they are trying to avoid."
Mr. Heaton said he hadn't been fully briefed on the meeting, but understood that officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would attend, along with oil-industry experts.
Mr. Cameron is an ocean-technology buff. He spent this past weekend in Vancouver visiting Mr. Nuytten, who's been involved in the deep-sea industry for more than 30 years and is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Newtsuit, a hard suit that lets divers work at depths of up to 1,000 feet without having to go through decompression.
Nuytco's manned submersibles have been used in industry, research and tourism. Industry, in general, favours remotely operated vehicles, which don't put people at risk and can stay at great depths for long periods of time.
But, though powerful tools, remotely operated vehicles are limited by having to be tethered to a vessel on the surface of the ocean, said Chris Barnes, project director for Neptune Canada, an underwater observatory project that began operating last year.
"Because you have these cables going down through the water column, you can't have several of these working at the same time - otherwise there is a real danger of getting the cables entwined," Mr. Barnes said.
Manned vehicles do not have to be tethered to a surface vehicle.
In its most recent update on the Gulf spill, BP said its planned containment operation "has not been previously carried out in 5,000 feet of water and the successful deployment of the containment system cannot be assured."
Nuytco's submersibles have a maximum depth of 3,000 feet, but other submersibles - including Russian Mir submersibles - can go to greater depths. Mr. Cameron has used Mir submersibles in several projects.