Fuel Costs, Budget Woes Cut U.S. Ocean Drilling

The continuing high cost of ship fuel and budget constraints at the National Science Foundation (NSF) have forced scientific ocean drillers to tie up their drill ship for a full 6 months in fiscal year 2012, according to an e-mail sent to the drilling community today.

The blow is only the latest setback for U.S. ocean drilling. When the deep-sea scientific drilling ship JOIDES Resolution left the Singapore shipyards after a much-prolonged overhaul in January 2009, it marked the end of a 3-year hiatus in U.S. drilling. But there were only enough funds for 8 months of drilling a year, not the traditional 12 months. Now, despite a million-dollar increase in requested NSF operational support to $66 million in fiscal year 2012, one of four planned 2-month drilling expeditions will be delayed until the following year, says David Divins, director of ocean drilling programs at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D.C. The cutback puts not only U.S. drilling science at "serious risk," Divins writes, but also the science of international drilling partners of the United States.