May 7, 2010


You learn the darnedest 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 it seems prudent that this fact 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 1980s 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.

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