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Deepwater Drilling Gets Good Marks from MMS

Deepwater Drilling Gets Good Marks from MMS

Routine drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico's deepwater pose little threat to the environment or human health, and, in fact, play a significant role in the socioeconomic status of its port communities. That's the conclusion of a new report by the Minerals and Management Service (MMS) of the U.S. Department of Interior, which published its conclusions for a projected 10-year period on deepwater operations between 1998-2007.

Because Gulf of Mexico deepwater oil and gas operations are rapidly accelerating, MMS decided to take a closer look at the long-term environmental and human health effects of oil and gas exploration, development and production operations for the next decade. Overall, MMS paints a favorable picture of deepwater activities, and makes no mention for additional regulation that would affect exploration and production activities there.

Except in the case of oil spills, which MMS concluded were rare, deepwater activities are "unlikely to have long-term adverse effects" on marine life, It also found that by using regulatory mechanisms already in place, including the National Environmental Policy Act, potential drilling operations would face no further regulatory requirements.

The MMS's "Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Operations and Activities: Environmental Assessment" found few lethal effects are expected from future deepwater drilling. However, MMS did find that stress and the possible change in distribution of marine life may have already altered the lifestyles of some marine mammals and cetaceans.

In practice, the actual effects on fisheries and the fishing industry is "inconsequential and likely unnoticeable." In fact, the report concluded that the socioeconomic effects of deepwater activities are overall positive, including a strong and stable workforce and expanded onshore opportunities in Texas and Louisiana.

Only one area in the report seemed to call for possible changes. Potential effects of sound from seismic surveys, even marine surveys, were found by MMS to be insignificant. However, MMS has commissioned a separate environmental assessment on this to determine whether environmental impact studies should be routinely required for this type of work.

To obtain free copies of the environmental assessment (MMS publication 2000-001), contact MMS, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, Public Information Office (MS 5034), 1201 Elmwood Park Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70123-2304. The publication also is available for downloading on the MMS website at www.gomr.mms.gov.

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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