The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently updated guidelines protecting historic sites on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Additional language appended to the 1966 law requiring the bureau to oversee oil-and-gas drilling in the outer continental shelf added new portions of the ocean floor that must be surveyed for archaeological material prior to drilling.
The update, according to Bureau director Tommy Beaudreau, was the outcome of “new information, recent discoveries and advances in hydrographic survey technology.” According to this Daily Comet article:
The government periodically updates its notice, but the changes signify a gradual shift in the way the bureau protects historic underwater sites, according to Robert Church, a marine archaeologist with C&C Technologies, a Lafayette-based survey company.
“The government is moving away from this idea of a ‘high probability predictive model’ of where shipwrecks are likely to be, to understanding that shipwrecks can be anywhere there is water, anywhere that ships go,” he said. “There have been holes in those regulations. They’re trying to make sure survey work is done prior to any activity that will affect the bottom.”
Without first surveying blocks, oil-and-gas companies may disrupt historic sites without even realizing it.
Federal officials estimate there are 2,100 historic shipwrecks in the Gulf’s federal waters. Let’s hope this prevents future disasters, like the 2001 discovery of a 200-year-old schooner (pictured below) after ExxonMobil built an oil pipeline on it.