Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Miles of Gulf Pipeline at the Mercy of Hurricanes

As if the current environmental disaster in the Gulf is not enough, a new report published in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters, is highlighting the potential for a hurricane (or hurricanes) this season to create strong enough underwater waves to dig up and potentially sever oil pipelines that run across the ocean floor, therefore complicating the already compromising situation.

At least 31,000 miles of pipelines snake across Gulf and hurricanes have long been known to cause a range of damage to them. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 there were 299 reports of damage to pipelines, just to be followed by 243 reports later that season from Hurricane Rita – so there is clear evidence that not only could a hurricane exacerbate the current spill, it could cause another one.

How does it happen? Historically speaking, the howling winds of hurricanes can generate strong currents along the sea floor, therefore scouring the seabed, picking up sediment from some places and piling it up in others. This scouring of sediment has the ability to create underwater horizontal mudslides that could lead to the damaged oil pipelines.

The problem does not just lie on the sea floor, however. A strong hurricane along with its gusty winds and towering waves could also topple oil rigs that line the northern Gulf. After the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April, it also toppled into the sea. Just something to think about…

Meanwhile, check out the above image of an oil rig beached in Dauphin Island, Alabama after Katrina!Found miles from its usual position in the Gulf, that rig in particular produced 40,000 barrels of oil and 60 million cubic feet of gas per day!