Mineral and energy resources of the continental margins of the United States arc important to the Nation's commodity independence and to its balance of payments. These resources are being studied along the continental margins of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico in keeping with the mission of the U.S. Geological Survey to survey the geologic structures, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.'(Organic Act of 1879).
An essential corollary to these resource studies is the study of potential geologic hazards that may be associated with offshore resource exploration and exploitation. In cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Geological Survey, through its Atlantic-Gulf of Mexico Marine Geology Program, carries out extensive research to evaluate hazards from sediment mobility, shallow gas, and slumping and to acquire information on the distribution and concentration of trace metals and biogenic and petroleum-derived hydrocarbons in sea-floor sediments. All these studies arc providing needed background information, including information on pollutant dispersal, on the nearshore, estuarine, and lacustrine areas that may be near pipeline and nuclear powerplant sites. Users of these data include the Congress, many Federal agencies, the coastal States, private industry, academia, and the concerned public.
The results of the regional structural, stratigraphic, and resource studies carried out under the Atlantic-Gulf of Mexico Marine Geology Program have been used by the Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management to select areas for future leasing and to aid in the evaluation of tracts nominated for leasing. Resource studies have concentrated mostly on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf frontier areas. Geologic detailing of five major basins along the U.S. Atlantic margin, where sediments are as much as 14 km thick, have been revealed by 25,000 km of 24-and 48-channel common-depth-point seismic data, 187,000 km of acromagnetic data, and 39,000 km of gravity data, plus 10,000 samples and logs obtained from U.S. Geological Survey and industry drilling (for example, coreholes of the Atlantic Slope Program, Joint Oceanographic Institutions Deep Earth Sampling, Continental Offshore Stratigraphic Tests, and the Atlantic Margin Coring Program). A sedimentary section of Jurassic and Cretaceous age grades from terrigenous clastic rocks nearshore to carbonate rocks offshore; this section is part of an extensive buried bank-platform complex that could contain large reserves of natural gas and oil.
The volume of sediment deposited offshore far exceeds the volume deposited onshore where extensive accumulations of oil, gas, and minerals have been found. Commercial exploratory drilling offshore thus far has been limited to the Baltimore Canyon Trough area off New Jersey, where at least two holes have found gas; leasing has taken place in the Southeast Georgia Embayment, where drilling was scheduled to begin in 1979, and is imminent in the Georges Bank area off New England. In addition, hydrogeologic and hydrochemical data obtained from the drilling studies have delineated freshwater-bearing submarine extensions of land aquifers that are important coastal ground-water resources.
Hazards in the Georges Bank area include sand mobility associated with strong currents and storm-driven waves; high concentrations of suspended sediment in the water column that, when mixed with spilled oil, may sink to the bottom; and slumping along the upper slope. In the Baltimore Canyon, high sediment mobility accompanies major winter storms, and slumped material may cover as much as 20 percent of the upper slope. Potentially unstable slope areas are being studied in great detail to provide data on timing, triggering mechanisms, and rates of sediment movement. In the Southeast Georgia Embayment and Blake Plateau Basin, strong Gulf Stream flow poses a major problem to all offshore operations.
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USGS Numbered Series
U.S. Geological Survey program of offshore resource and geoenvironmental studies, Atlantic-Gulf of Mexico region, from September 1, 1976, to December 31, 1978