After 20 years of sitting quietly underwater, scientists are now expressing concerns about undetonated bombs that were scattered across US coasts post-WWII.
The waters around Hawai’i were a major dumping site for the US.
Offshore drilling is controversial for many reasons. Oil has been humanity’s chosen source of energy for centuries now. It is no surprise that we have had to go to extreme lengths in order to get our hands on it.
When you think about oil politics it is likely that your first thought leads you to war or the US alliance with Saudi Arabia or, perhaps, the recent Deepwater Horizon incident. This article focuses on the issue of off-shore drilling.
Take a look at this map of off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (below). It was first published by News Corp subsidiary National Geographic about two years ago. A poster of the map decorated my apartment walls in Seattle for most of that time. I was shocked by the display and thought others would be too – it sparked many conversations.
Judge for yourself.
You’ll notice that offshore drilling exploration comes to an end at the Mexico/US border. Until that point, you see a pretty fair amount of production occurring across the entire region. Nearest the shore, where drilling is most safe, you see the most. Far out at sea you find far less, although the Perdido platform is worth noticing because it holds the world-record for operating at nearly 8,000 feet.
What do you think of this map?
Are we drilling too much? Should we drill more? Does the density and location of various rigs lead you to believe that deepwater drilling is dangerous or, alternatively, ripe for exploration? When you notice the great expanse of pipelines connected to the rigs and coloring our sea floor are your proud, shocked, or disgusted?
No matter your reaction, I think it is safe to assume you were not worrying about bombs or WW2, but Dr. William Bryant from Texas A&M thinks you should be. After WW2, millions of pounds of unused explosive were cast to sea, never to be seen again.
Or so we thought..
In recent years, several oil companies (including BP) have reported shutting down operations at various rigs in order to deal with damage sustained from a bomb explosion. Bombs have been discovered between 60-100 miles off-shore, many outside of designated dumping areas.Considering the amount of spilled chemicals and oil also living in the Gulf, the risk of an explosion is worth considering.
“At least one Gulf pipeline was laid across a chemical weapon dump site south of the mouth of the Mississippi River,” Dr. Bryant told Reuters.
These occurances are not highly common, but they are very interesting to think about in the context of a debate about energy. Aside from environmental protection, hazards like undetonated war bombs are a problem for private boat owners, divers, fisherman, oil companies and their employees building in the Gulf. My point is that there is a lot to think about when we consider our energy options.
How do we deal with such risks?
Broad questions are often difficult to answer and really shouldn’t be given a simple resolution. The dangers of exploring any energy technology will be high, but we need to understand that when we judge their feasibility. Not all oil issues are about “Drill, Baby, Drill,” or an “addiction to oil,” there are also real world dangers to consider (sound bites rarely solve any problems).
Putting our partisan opinions aside we should survey the evidence of drilling in the Gulf and really try to understand how we feel about it as we react to the map. If you’re conservative, keep in mind that the publisher of the map (News Corp) is owned by Rupurt Murdoch, a well known conservative, so there is no reason to believe this information is tainted with a liberal bias.
Look at the map with open eyes.
Where are all the bombs?
That is the question that comes to my mind when I look at the map of drilling. Understanding both the location of drilling sites, potential sites, and the location of discarded bombs would provide us with a lot of important information when making risky decisions about energy exploration.
“No one seems to know where all of them are and what condition they are in today,” Dr. Bryant told NBC News. “The best guess is that at least 31 million pounds of bombs were dumped, but that could be a very conservative estimate.”
The US stopped dumping war material into the ocean some 40 years ago, but we’re reminded of our actions everyday. German submarines, chemical weapons, and confiscated machinery all lie in wait on our sea floors.
Let us not forget the mistakes of our past as we move into the future.
Note: Dr. Bryant is set to speak at a conference hosted by the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions. The conference begins Monday, October 1st, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- World War II bombs, mustard gas in Gulf of Mexico need to be checked, experts warn (usnews.nbcnews.com)
- Unexploded bombs lurk in U.S. offshore oil patch: experts (Yahoo! News)
- Gulf of Mexico-A Geography of Offshore Oil (National Geographic)
- 3 Offshore Drilling Companies Poised To Deliver Strong Growth With New Rigs (seekingalpha.com)
- Shell Starts Drilling Offshore Alaska (247wallst.com)
- Atwood Oceanics Orders Third Ultra-Deepwater Drillship (gcaptain.com)
- Democratic senators want a stop to Arctic drilling (mcclatchydc.com)
- Former offshore drilling regulator warns of complacency (fuelfix.com)
- Activists across America Will Join Hands against Offshore Drilling on August 4 (ecowatch.org)