Mitigating Potentially Weaponized Natural Phenomena
Bart Kemper, P.E.Principal Engineer, Kemper Engineering Services, LLCBaton Rouge, LA, USAwww.kemperengineering.comTraditionally, chemical attacks are seen as military bombs or home-brewed releases.
Some of theoriginal chemical attacks in WWI used industrial gasses such as phosgene.
Similarly, industrial sitescan be used to create a chemical attack, which is since September 2001.
However, the potentiallymore pernicious attacks could use naturally occurring phenomena, such as “sour gas” oil fields.“Sour gas” oil fields are called such due to the high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
Itcombines with blood chemistry the same way as cyanide.
At 3 parts per million (ppm) it ishazardous and can be detected by a “rotten egg” smell.
At 100 ppm it overwhelms the olfactorynerves and sickens the victim.
At 600 ppm it can have a knock-out effect and can be lethal in 30minutes.
Slightly more exposure, such as 800 ppm, and death is in minutes. Exposure iscumulative. Since cartridge-style protective masks are ineffective, personnel would have to haveSelf Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for protection.
SCBA is logistically intensive forsustained operations.The northern oilfields of Iraq are “sour.”
During the preparation for the 2003 attack there weremany questions of how to secure the oilfields and safely operate in the region.
Wellheads couldnot only be damaged by combat actions, they could be sabotaged by being pulled open by trucksor blasted open with a small amount of explosives.
The main highway from Turkey travels souththrough the Kirkuk area in the heart of the oilfields, then continues down to Baghdad.
This is akey route for both forces.Given military personnel are not equipped with SCBA and fielding a large force with SCBA would belogistically prohibitive, a large H2S release would act as a persistent chemical agent and blockoperations.
Civilians do not have any protective equipment, let alone SCBA, so any such actionwould also kill many civilians.
Saddam Hussein had already demonstrated complete willingness toslaughter thousands of his own citizens, so the possibility of civilian deaths was not seen as adeterrent to weaponizing the northern oil fields to block a northern attack.
This heightened theneed to quantify and mitigate this threat.Initial efforts used HAZ, a commercially available software package from BREEZ Software thatmodels chemical releases, fires, and other industrial hazards.
Open source information of theregion’s oilfield chemistry and a typical release was rapidly determined.
Different wind speeds,terrain roughness values, and weather conditions were modeled to develop a range of chemicalplume geometries.
An example of one of the plumes is shown in Fig. 1 below.
These results wereused by CBRNE personnel to update local threats due to known wellhead locations.
Given H2S iscumulative and these would be persistent sources, overlapping plumes gave a reasonable estimateof the effects of multiple sources. Military engineers and chemical warfare specialists used theseestimates to perform risk-based decisions, develop contingency plans, and to continually updatethe potential H2S threat in key areas.
These estimates were also used to develop actions thatsafeguarded the northern oilfields.