It was April 2010, that the Horizon platform blew in the Gulf of Mexico where British Petroleum has been blamed resulting in one of the largest disasters in recent years, destroying much of the shoreline and salt water life.
BP took full responsibility for the disaster, but given the theories on the cause of the destruction of the pipeline and the drilling platform, was it really all BP’s fault? What did BP know, what did the oil producer not know and what was hidden that does reside on the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico?
Further information noted here.
In part from Maritime Executive: As time passes, more and more people are working on the seafloor and the chance of encounter with these bombs and other ordnance is becoming greater.”
With the ship traffic needed to support the 4,000 energy rigs, along with commercial fishing, cruise lines and other activities, the Gulf can be a sort of marine interstate highway system of its own. There are an estimated 30,000 workers on the oil and gas rigs at any given moment.
Bombs used in the military in the 1940s through the 1970s ranged from 250- to 500- and even 1,000-pound explosives, some of them the size of refrigerators. The military has a term for such unused bombs: UXO, or unexploded ordnance.
One huge problem is that record keeping of the military dump sites is incomplete and sketchy at best. It’s also believed that many of the munitions were “short dumped,” meaning they were discarded outside designated dumping areas by private contractors hired at the time.
“The real mystery is that no one knows what is down there, or where all of it is,” Slowey notes.
“Although most of these bombs do not have triggers in them, some types of ordnance , such as torpedoes and mines, can become more unstable over time, so their case the chance of an accidental explosion is increasing.
“Because chemical weapons potentially pose environmental contamination risks, and because explosive material in many of the standard bombs and other ordnance may still be viable, we need to determine exactly where they are and then have a plan for removing them or at least monitoring their condition,” Slowey says.
Forgotten hazards: Unexploded WW2 bombs and chemical weapons STILL pose serious threat to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico
- After WW2 unexploded bombs were dumped in the ocean
- 70 years later no one knows exactly how many were dumped and where
- 500-pound bombs found 60 miles off Texas coast
- At least one Gulf pipeline laid across a chemical weapon dump
- Call for oil and gas industry to do more to address the problem
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 oil drilling, warn researchers.
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’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 Juan, Puerto 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, said Terrance 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.
Last year, BP shut its key Forties crude pipeline in the North Sea for five days while it removed a 13-foot (4-metre) unexploded German mine found resting cozily next to the pipeline that transports up to 40 percent of the UK’s oil production.
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 seven 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 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 Texas coast and other ordnance 100 miles offshore, outside designated zones. At least one Gulf pipeline was laid across a chemical weapon dump site south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, 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.’