Getting Right Down To It
A startling new project has begun in the north of England. It is the brainchild of Kevin Spout, who invited Madazine’s occasional science contributor, Axel Griess, to examine progress in the undertaking. “This will change the world for all of us,” says the enthusiastic Mr Spout. The site is the back garden of a small house in a suburb of Sheffield, where Kevin (43) lives with his wife and two children.
So far, the only thing to be seen is a square of freshly turned soil, in the middle of which is a hole, one inch in diameter. “This is my second go,” said Kevin. “I had to abort the first attempt when I hit a water main shortly after I started work. I sealed the puncture with parcel tape, which I think will hold – not that it matters much because the water people lose a lot through leaks anyway.”
Kevin explained that his new hole had reached a depth of eight feet, after a week of drilling. He then revealed the extent of his ambition, saying that he intends to bore down to the Earth’s centre. He expressed surprise that what he has in mind is not obvious to most of us. “I’ve done my research,” he says. “People who’ve studied these things reckon that our planet has a huge core of solid iron, surrounded by an outer layer of the same stuff in molten state. Now, it stands to reason that this is because such a weighty metal has worked its way down by gravity. What I realised is that iron is not the only thing that’s got there. Obviously, even denser elements must have plunged right to the middle.”
Asked to expand, Kevin chuckled. “It’s plain enough,” he said. “I’m going to get right through the iron and locate the really heavy substances. I mean gold, platinum, uranium, osmium and so on.” He went on gleefully: “Talk about the mother lode. My results will make that Klondike affair seem like somebody finding a penny in the street.”
Pressed for further information, Kevin said that when he gets to his goal, he will extract the valuable metals by a process he has devised. He will not publicise the details but says that the method is somewhat like fracking. His timetable is flexible, though he hopes to be producing on a commercial basis in the very near future.
Some interest has been shown by three US entrepreneurs, Hank Wellcap, Bob Gusher and Tom Derrick, all with long experience in the oil exploration business. “I guess you can put me down for a couple of dollars,” says Gusher, by which he doubtless means two million. Wellcap also seems willing to put a toe into the water. “I’ll need to speak with my partner, Jack Rigg,” he says, “but I reckon he’ll go along with me for a buck or two.”
Not everyone is convinced. The Spouts’ next-door neighbour, Alice Neutron (94) hopes to sell her house and move away before, as she puts it: “Kevin blights the area with his silly idea.” She may be too late to up stakes.
Eminent Swiss geologist Heinz Bienz – yes, he gets a lot of ribbing from his anglophone colleagues – is worried. “I fear the worst,” he groans. “This man has no idea what he is facing. He appears to have immense faith in his tungsten drill, but I would remind him of two things. First, this metal melts at about 3,400 degrees Celsius, whereas it is estimated that the temperature at the Earth’s core is between 4,000 and 7,000 degrees, so Mr Spout’s equipment could not reach his target. However, that is irrelevant because the second thing is that the pressure down there is well over three million times the level at the planet’s surface, so even if the apparatus were the most robust ever devised by human ingenuity, it would be crushed long before getting a chance to liquefy.”
London-based engineer Horace Mandrill agrees and adds: “Apart from everything else, I am horrified by the thought that if he were to succeed, Spout might well haul up a less desirable heavy element. I refer to plutonium. Should he somehow release a pound or two of that into the atmosphere, it would be goodbye to Britain? I shudder to think of what other lethal cocktails he might spew over us if by some freak chance he were to succeed. Incidentally, at a rate of eight feet a week, it would take him nearly two years to drill through a mile – and it is 3,963 times that distance to the Earth’s centre. This fellow should be locked up in a very secure place.”
Reaction from leading Australian mineralogist Bruce Spruce was dismissive and scathing. Interviewed at his home, a converted lighthouse near Alice Springs – don’t ask – he vented his bile. “When I heard what this Pom is up to, I could hardly contain my indifference,” he sneered. “Boring is a word that makes me think of either holes or yawns. In the case of Spout’s effort it’s the latter. This caper is about as interesting as a koala’s armpit. The poor daffydil hasn’t a chance. I won’t dignify his scheme with a detailed appraisal. Just wake me up after he’s bungled it.”
The ebullient Kevin is undismayed by these observations. He retorts: “Like another man who said recently that he was inspired to a great adventure by reading Madazine’s accounts of the great Professor Jopp’s work, I got my impetus from the exploits of the Green Giant from Norway. I shall be as triumphant as he has been in his enterprises.”
Our reporter advises caution. “Keep your heads down,” he says. “As sure as my name is Axel Griess, something will go wrong here.”
* * *