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.
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Last year, BP shut its key Forties crude pipeline in the North Sea for five days while it removed a 13-foot (4-metre) un exploded German mine found resting cozily next to the pipeline that transports up to 40 percent of the UK's oil production.Skip to next paragraph
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BP discovered the mine during a routine pipeline inspection, then spent several months devising a plan to lift the bomb and move it far enough from the pipeline to safely detonate it.
In the Gulf of Mexico, which accounts for 23 percent of U.S. oil production and 7 percent of domestic natural gas output, the hazards are known, but generally ignored.
In 2001, BP and Shell found the wreckage of the U-166, a German World War II submarine, 45 miles (72 kms) from the mouth of the Mississippi River during an underwater survey for a pipeline needed to transport natural gas to shore.
Bryant said he and colleague Neil Slowey have documented discarded bombs and leaking barrels over the past 20 years while conducting research for energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico.
Records of where these munitions were dumped are incomplete and experts believe many dangerous cargoes were "short-dumped," or discarded outside designated zones.
Bryant said he has come across 500-pound (227-kgs) bombs about 60 miles off the Texascoast and other ordnance 100 miles offshore, outside designated zones. A t least one Gulf pipeline was laid across a chemical weapon dump site south of the mouth of the MississippiRiver, he said.
While the risk of an underwater bomb exploding may be small, environmental damage from chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, is worrisome and needs to be researched, Bryant said.
"We would like to do a survey to be able to say if (this material) is harmful or not," he said. "The condition of these barrels is deteriorating, so does it affect anything or not? We ought to know."
Calls and emails to various companies with wells or pipelines in the gulf seeking comment were not returned. Neither the U.S. Army, nor the BOEM would comment as well.
Sonar data from a routine seabed survey performed by C&C Technologies identified munitions in about 3,000 feet of water near a proposed project, according to a paper presented at the 2007 Offshore Technology Conference.
After determining the bombs presented a low-to-moderate risk, the project continued as planned.
The oil and gas industry needs to do more address the problem, Long said. "It makes more sense to start dealing with the munitions from a risk-mitigation standpoint to be able to conduct operations in those areas rather than trying to avoid that they are there," Long said.
The BOEM, which regulates offshore drilling in federal waters, warns companies seeking leases to drill or add pipelines about the existence of unexploded ordnance and requires underwater surveys to assess and manage the numerous natural and manmade hazards.