Drilling In A Mine Field

You learn the darndest things on the internets. For example, I just found out that the Gulf of Mexico is the primary disposal site for unexploded military munitions – over 30 million pounds of bombs, projectiles and chemical ordnance.

And because records are spotty and incomplete, we don’t know exactly where these dumps are.

(Are you following me?)

Many of these bombs are unstable. Just about anything could detonate them – say, an oil rig that’s digging deeper than what owners noted on their permit application. So we’re leasing offshore drilling rights to oil companies IN A FRICKIN’ MINE FIELD. (You’ll notice this NY Times piece on the problems of offshore drilling doesn’t even mention it.)

Drill, baby, drill!

There is technology available to carefully map underwater hazards like UXO but so far, I haven’t found anything that indicates offshore drilling lessees are required to do so. I have to assume that a company will try to protect their investment, but you never know.

But isn’t is reasonable that this information be part of the public debate on offshore drilling?

Here’s some of this information from a paper presented at the 2007 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

In June of 2006, the MMS (Editor’s note: Minerals Management Service) released its Notice to Lessees NTL
2006-G12, which outlined regulations for conducting
Ancillary Activities in the Gulf of Mexico OCS Region.

Within this Notice, the MMS states a requirement to comply
with protective measures when conducting activities within
Ordnance Dumping Zones, as well as Military Warning Zones
(“Water Test Areas”) 1 through 5. Figure 1 displays the areas
delineated by the MMS as Ordnance Disposal and Military
Warning Areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, during the writing of this paper, the MMS
released NTL 2007-G01, which updated the Shallow Hazards
Program requirements. This notice also recognizes ordnance
as a manmade hazard that may have an adverse effect on
proposed well operations
. Although the standard Gulf of
Mexico geohazard survey and assessment does not currently
involve a specifically defined unexploded ordnance
assessment, prudent owners, operators, and service vendors
should consider it on top of the To-Do list when planning
projects in those sensitive areas
. This paper presents such an
assessment as well as provides additional insights into the
problem of unexploded ordnance encountered in deepwater.

Three fundamental problems exist that the standard geohazard
assessor faces in dealing with the UXO problem. These are
simply limitations in technology, awareness, and expertise.

The solution lies in the utilization of innovative technology,
well thought out and appropriately planned geohazard survey
specifications, and most importantly the utilization of
unconventional industry experts with the ability to perform
adequate and thorough ordnance risk assessments

Historically, incidents involving ordnance discovered off the
coasts of the United States have been limited primarily to
fishing boats dragging ordnance up in their nets. It is very rare
that a detonation occurs during one of these events although it
has happened. In the early 1980’s off the coast of New Jersey,
a fishing boat attempted to haul a WWII torpedo warhead in to
harbor. While at anchor, outside the harbor, and awaiting
Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) responders, a
storm emerged. The increased wave and wind activity rattled
the warhead against the fishing boat, accidentally detonating it
and sinking the fishing boat. Due to instances like these,
survey, transportation, and exploration companies venturing
into deep waters are becoming more susceptible to
encountering UXOs and the distinct possibility of an
accidental detonation.

UXO (unexploded ordnance) dump zones also exist off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Although the Atlantic and Pacific oceans drop off very quickly and oil and gas exploration has been limited along those coasts, current technology for deepwater production is making the possibility of Atlantic and Pacific margin exploration more of a reality. This will only increase the need for UXO awareness and viable solutions to their existence in deepwater.

12 thoughts on “Drilling In A Mine Field

  1. This reminds me of a story in NJ where they found chemical munitions in a homeowners driveway. It was what they call a clamshell driveway which you see often down the shore. They dredge up layers of old clam beds as raw material and then pack them down making a hard surface for a driveway. Well, right off the coast are dumping grounds of chemical munitions made as far back as WWI. Deadly chemicals like mustard gas, chlorine, phosgene and nerve gas have been dumped in the ocean in huge quantities for decades. The barges piled high with these shells were “supposed” to go to designated dumping grounds thought be a sufficient distance from shore to keep the beaches from being endangered. In real practice, the barge owners, were much more comfortable getting these chemicals off their boats as soon as possible which also saved them in fuel. They were getting paid the same either way. Where this stuff actually is, is anyones guess. How far from shore is safe for a shell filled with a nerve gas? Did anyone tell the fish we eat to stay away ?

  2. There are probably some sunken German U-Boats down there too. They had a lot of activity in the Gulf and Atlantic coast hunting for oil tankers.

  3. The only danger to the drilling operation would be the initial penetration of the sea floor. Undoubtedly, the area is swept with magnetometers in preparation for the wellhead installation, BOP placement, casing and riser placement, etc. UXO wouldn’t settle more than a few feet under the surface of the seabed, depending on the composition of the sediment and the weight of the ordnance.

  4. Un-oh, the conspiracy theorists are already tuning up. Oh wait, “heckuvajob Brownie” has already started hasn’t he?

  5. Kill, Baby, Kill
    You know that’s what it amounts to.
    Kill whatever you don’t know, don’t understand, don’t care for. Kill whatever stands in your way – be it people, the environment, whatever. Just kill it. As long as profits rule. Oh, that, and power.
    DO NOT kill profits. ever.
    At least in this American ‘Democracy’….

  6. …and how ’bout that unexploded H-bomb buried deep in the muck at the base of the Savannah River?

  7. And they were dumping this stuff long before GPS. I doubt they had systems such as Loran readily available when WW2 stockpiles were dumped (they weren’t exactly designed for safe long-term storage). A sextant is potentially very accurate, but from the deck of a ship an error of a mile or two is no big deal–the land is big enough to see. Even honest records are going to be a bit approximate.

  8. Very nice catch, Charles. Does anybody know if ordnance tends to migrate along the floor?

    I also notice the word “prudent” in Susie’s long quote, and I wonder if it has legal significance.

Comments are closed.