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Unexploded bombs lurk off US coast

Disposed World War II explosives and munitions in the Gulf of Mexico pose a threat to offshore oil drilling, according to Texas oceanographers.

By Eileen O'GradyReuters / September 29, 2012

In this April 2010 file photo, an oil rig is seen in the Gulf of Mexico near the Chandeleur Islands, off the Southeastern tip of Louisiana. As technological advances allow oil companies to push deeper into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, forgotten hazards pose a threat.

Gerald Herbert/AP/File

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Houston

Millions of pounds of unexploded bombs dumped in the Gulf of Mexico by the U.S. government after World War Two pose a significant risk to offshore drilling, according to Texas oceanographers.

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It is no secret that the United States, along with other governments, dumped munitions and chemical weapons in oceans from 1946 until the practice was banned in the 1970s by U.S. law and international treaty, said William Bryant, a Texas A&M University professor of oceanography.

As technological advances allow oil companies to push deeper into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, these forgotten hazards pose a threat as the industry picks up the pace of drilling after BP Plc's deadly Macondo well blowout in 2010 that lead to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Unexploded ordnance has been found in the offshore zone known as Mississippi Canyon where the Macondo well was drilled.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will auction 38 million acres of oil and gas leases in the central gulf in March.

The U.S. government designated disposal areas for unexploded ordnance, known as UXO, off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. But nearly 70 years after the areas were created, no one knows exactly how much was dumped, or where the weapons are, or whether they present a danger to humans or marine life.

"These bombs are a threat today and no one knows how to deal with the situation," said Bryant. "If chemical agents are leaking from some of them, that's a real problem. If many of them are still capable of exploding, that's another big problem."

Disposal zones were designated from Florida to Texas, said Bryant, who will discuss his research findings at the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions conference that begins Monday in San JuanPuerto Rico.

While the practice of dumping bombs and chemical weapons, including mustard and nerve gas, in the ocean ended 40 years ago some effects are just beginning to be seen, saidTerrance Long, founder of the underwater munitions conference.

"You can find munitions in basically every ocean around the world, every major sea, lake and river," Long said. "They are a threat to human health and the environment."

The oil industry is no stranger to leftovers from the World War Two.

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