A new government report details 87 shipwrecks — most sunk during World War II — that could pollute U.S. waters with tens of millions of gallons of oil.
Even so, the potential for pollution is less than scientists had expected. The report released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concludes "the scope of the problem is much more manageable than initially feared. … Our coastlines are not littered with 'ticking time bombs.' "
Agency officials estimate that far less oil will leak into the ocean than the BP oil spill of 2010, which spewed about 200 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico. "That's not a bad number in comparison to what we first thought it would be," said NOAA's Lisa Symons, who wrote the study.
There are 20,000 shipwrecked vessels that lie off the nation's coastlines. Most of those either finished leaking long ago, ran on coal instead of oil, are too small or aren't near vulnerable land. "There are only six that really keep me up at night, but we don't know where they all really are," Symons said. Those six have the biggest potential to foul coastal areas because even if they spill only 10 percent of their oil, they could cause a local-scale disaster.
Symons said NOAA doesn't know the exact location of all six of them, just where they were last seen before they sank. Three of the six sites are off Florida: One is near Jupiter, another is 25 miles north of the Florida Keys, and the other is south of the Keys.
The three other sites are 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Ga.; 50 miles east of Charleston, S.C.; and 60 miles north of Montauk Point, N.Y.