Routine drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico’s deepwaterpose little threat to the environment or human health, and, infact, play a significant role in the socioeconomic status of itsport communities. That’s the conclusion of a new report by theMinerals and Management Service (MMS) of the U.S. Department ofInterior, which published its conclusions for a projected 10-yearperiod on deepwater operations between 1998-2007.

Because Gulf of Mexico deepwater oil and gas operations arerapidly accelerating, MMS decided to take a closer look at thelong-term environmental and human health effects of oil and gasexploration, development and production operations for the nextdecade. Overall, MMS paints a favorable picture of deepwateractivities, and makes no mention for additional regulation thatwould 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 adverseeffects” on marine life, It also found that by using regulatorymechanisms already in place, including the National EnvironmentalPolicy Act, potential drilling operations would face no furtherregulatory requirements.

The MMS’s “Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Operations and Activities:Environmental Assessment” found few lethal effects are expectedfrom future deepwater drilling. However, MMS did find that stressand the possible change in distribution of marine life may havealready altered the lifestyles of some marine mammals andcetaceans.

In practice, the actual effects on fisheries and the fishingindustry is “inconsequential and likely unnoticeable.” In fact, thereport concluded that the socioeconomic effects of deepwateractivities are overall positive, including a strong and stableworkforce and expanded onshore opportunities in Texas andLouisiana.

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

To obtain free copies of the environmental assessment (MMSpublication 2000-001), contact MMS, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region,Public Information Office (MS 5034), 1201 Elmwood Park Blvd., NewOrleans, LA 70123-2304. The publication also is available fordownloading on the MMS website at

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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