Gulf of Mexico Petroleum Geologist Says Tectonic Plates Actively Moving South

The Macondo Well is finally killed but environmental threats remain. The overlooked threat may be increasing potential for major earthquakes. This blog has documented increasing seismic activity in the Gulf of Mexico during the past decade. The subsea oil production assets are exposed in extraordinarily high concentrations in the Western and Central oil producing areas. The earthquakes are striking the heart of these oil production regions.
In a previous article posted on this blog, it has been shown that Mineral Management Services engaged in a 2003 study to determine seismic risks to subsea structures due to increased incidences of earthquake activity in the Gulf. Underwater oil and gas structures including 44,000 miles of pipeline and thousands of active and inactive wells have not been constructed to withstand earthquake forces. The 2003 study did not test for forces that would be seen with major, 7.0 and above magnitude quakes.

In 2006, a 6.0 and 5.2 magnitude quake struck in the Gulf of Mexico marking a growing intensity in recorded events near oil producing regions. A recent blog covering the circumstances and location of those two earthquakes may be found here. One of those earthquakes had an epicenter near BP’s Atlantis oil production site. Curiously, in 2008, two years after the earthquake the government, using some private seismic data from BP, which was not calibrated for capturing earthquake activity, actually relocated the epicenter to a preferred position farther away from the Atlantis location.

Earthquake Causation Puzzle

The Gulf of Mexico has been considered a Zero Seismic Risk Zone which means earthquake construction standards have not applied to oil production assets. This should mean that the seismic activity is quiet. Yet the earthquake activity of recent years has reenergized the question of earthquake causes in the Gulf and whether a greater risk is now posed to the environment due to highly concentrated subsea metropolises that cover the sea floor. Added to the concern are the 27,000 abandoned oil wells that scar the sea bottom with plugs of various ages and conditions. There are thousands of temporarily abandoned wells within these numbers, that may have very inadequate plugs for the long term. Of course it is unknown what affect a major earthquake in the heart of the oil producing regions might have on all these active and abandoned wells.

Texaco Petroleum Geologist Forced to Accept Quiet Theory

American Association of Petroleum Geologist (AAPG), Jack M. Reed, deceased, did not buy the long-held theory of a quiet geologic evolution of the Gulf of Mexico Basin. He said that the traditional view is fundamentally flawed and should be revised. Mr. Reed, deceased since 2007, worked for Texaco in the Gulf of Mexico for 4o years. He retired to an independent consulting practice in New Orleans. After studying for years the geologic formations of the Gulf and surrounding regions, Mr. Reed formulated his own theory that the Gulf of Mexico is currently tectonically active.

Reed quoted in AAPG’s publication, Explorer magazine in 2002 says: ”For all the years I have worked the Gulf of Mexico Basin I have been forced to accept the “passive” Gulf formation theory, which holds that the only movement in the basin is updip sedimentary loading that moved the salt southward,” Reed said. “But there is little evidence to support this theory, and it doesn’t fit what is observed geologically or geophysically. As Hugh Wilson said (1993), ‘It would be geologically unusual for such a large basin as the Gulf of Mexico to remain almost tectonically undisturbed for 170 million years while major orogenic disturbances repeatedly struck bordering areas.’

What is not clear from reports of Mr. Reed’s opinion is why he felt forced to accept the theory of a quiet and passive Gulf basin. Explorer’s article covers some of the scientific evidence that Mr. Reed found supportive of his theory, that there is currently plate motion in the Gulf basin. Reed believed that “thick salt and sedimentary sequences in the basin mask this tectonic motion, but there is enough basin and peripheral evidence to show plate readjustment is occurring – evidence, he says, in the form of volcanics, earthquakes and rift zones that are accompanied by magnetic, refraction, seismic and gravity data.”

Jack Reed’s Map Gulf of Mexico & New Madrid Fault

Reed’s study maps out the causal connection that he believes exists between the southward movement of the Gulf of Mexico Basin and the New Madrid Seismic Zone running northeastward across the United States (depicted by the red lines on the map). Geologist have found evidence of New Madrid experiencing 8.0 magnitude earthquakes in the 1800s. The increased concentrations of construction and populations in the region is a real concern. A major earthquake in the New Madrid region today would result in losses of billions in damaged buildings and infrastructure, with an accompanying threat to human life.

Recent Earthquake Location & Increased Intensity Consistent With Reed Theory

One of the largest modern earthquakes of 6.0 magnitude occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on September 10, 2006. Its epicenter is located within the region of the West Florida Escarpment which appears to align it with Reed’s theoretical triple juncture formation. The USGS map of the epicenter puts the location in the region that appears

February 10, 2006 Gulf Quake On Reed’s Theoretical Lines

close to Reed’s placement of the suspected tectonic activity of his analysis. Likewise, the February 2006 earthquake’s location appears consistent with an area that corresponds with Reed’s theory. This is the event noted above for which USGS changed the epicenter that moved it farther away from BP’s Atlantis.

The Internet is loaded with information about the New Madrid rift zone. Some scientists have expressed concerns that a major earthquake in this region of the United States has the higher likelihood of occurring in the near-term than does California. Some of the material on the Internet cites psychic predictions of Edgar Cayce tending to predict a major quake in the middle of the United States. There are also current reports from areas in the New Madrid region of small earthquakes, problems with roads cracking and homes experiencing shifting damage. Those keeping in touch with the issue are concerned that a big one is coming. The prophets are out on this phenomenon complete with anticipated future USA maps following an earthquake of Biblical proportions.

When asked what the exploration potential was for the northern rift zone crossing the country, Jack Reed is reported in the Explorer magazine article to have said.:

Not much, ” Reed conceded. “However, if you want waterfront property you should buy land around Indianapolis. In a couple of million years this acreage could be overlooking the Strait of America that separates western (and) eastern America!

The question is do we continue with new development in the deep water Gulf of Mexico without requiring more study and higher standards before allowing anymore drilling and installation of pipelines, and oil production structures in the Gulf. The high risk of environmental damage from this activity, together with the desirability of pursuing a policy of reducing our dependence on hydro carbons, should cause us to restrict additional development in the Gulf of Mexico. The earth is warning us, but will we respond in time to avert catastrophe. Given the current political climate and business control of every major branch of government, it is difficult to see anything but a disaster that dwarfs the Deepwater Horizon affair altering our course of destruction. The plans are for further development of the eastern region of the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Atlantic coast. This hardly follows a policy designed to give us new energy resources.
Steve Drinkard