The Mil & Aero Blog
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
  Oil spill: could modified sonar help detect concentrations of undersea oil threatening wildlife and tourism in Gulf of Mexico?

Posted by John Keller

I'm starting to hear some interesting things from naval defense contractors about gauging the magnitude of the underwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the 20 April explosion of the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig.

Two things: first, sonar equipped with modified frequencies may be able to locate and measure concentrations not only of spilled crude oil, but also of heavy metal-laden toxic dispersants used in attempts to break up the oil as it spews from the stricken well. Second, this is likely to be WAY worse than people can even imagine.

Naval contractors are starting to talk about how to use modified sonobuoys dropped from U.S. Navy P-3 anti-submarine warfare aircraft to get a handle on just how large this oil spill really is. The problem, it seems, is that BP remains in charge of the cleanup, and has been less than eager to involve the U.S. Navy.

This oil spill disaster has turned into a bureaucratic mess that prevents the best resources from coming to bear. Case in point: the U.S. Coast Guard is one of the point agencies responsible for responding to maritime disasters close to the U.S. coastline like this. The Coast Guard is just now getting around to discussing contracts just to measure the rate of flow of oil into the Gulf.

The problem with the Coast Guard -- aside from its lack of a sense of urgency -- is this agency does not have adequate resources to deal with a disaster of this magnitude, while the U.S. Navy does. Sounds like it's high time to get the Navy involved ... that is, if it's not already too late for the Gulf Coast.

So why do we need modified sonar to find concentrations of oil? Doesn't crude oil float to the surface, since it's lighter than water?

The answer is, not always. Experts predict there are huge, lake-sized concentrations of crude oil traveling on sub-sea currents east and west along the Gulf's continental shelf. Some experts say that some of the oil starting to reach land is coming ashore without ever breaking the surface.

Think about that. If this is the case, and I have no reason to doubt it, then many of those oil booms deployed now and in the future will be useless. Worse, a sub-sea oil slick invisible from the surface is easier to ignore for federal authorities more interested in ignoring this disaster instead of solving it.

It's time to get the resources of the U.S. military involved in this maritime disaster. If the oil spill in the Gulf isn't a national emergency, then I don't know what is. Get the Navy, get it's P-3s, its sonobuoys, its surface ships, and its submarines to work on this disaster. Do it now.

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