Hurricanes Could Snap Offshore Oil Pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico

A new study by researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Centre, Mississippi suggests hurricanes could snap offshore oil pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico and other hurricane-prone areas.

It appears the pipelines could crack or rupture unless they are buried or their supporting foundations are built to withstand these hurricane-induced currents.  The researchers warn in their study,  to be published on 10th June in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, that “major oil leaks from damaged pipelines could have irreversible impacts on the ocean environment.”

It is reported that there are at least 31,000 miles of pipelines along the sea-floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  The researchers say damage to these pipelines can be difficult to detect if it causes only smaller leaks rather than a catastrophic break.

Deployment of Seafloor Censors

Sea-floor sensors, known as "Barnys" because of their barnacle-like shape, were deployed by Naval Research Laboratory scientists in 2004 about 100 miles off the coast of Alabama, in the Gulf of Mexico. (Credit: Naval Research Laboratory)

The new study is based on unique measurements taken directly under a powerful hurricane and the calculations are the first to show that hurricanes propel underwater currents with enough force to dig up the seabed, potentially creating underwater mudslides and damaging pipes or other equipment resting on the bottom.

The official start of the hurricane season was 1st June.

For the full article, please visit this page on the ScienceDaily web site.

David M. Davison

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