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    MMS publishes GOM deepwater EA

    Publications // July 28, 2000
    The Minerals Management Service (MMS), part of the US Department of the Interior, has published an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the potential effects of deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM) oil and gas exploration, development, and production operations during a 10-year period that began in 1998 (1998-2007).

    After studying information gathered in the assessment process, the MMS has determined that most deepwater operations are substantially the same as those inconventional, shallow-water on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), and that no environmental impact statement is required.

    For over 50 years, the western and central parts of the northern Gulf have been among the world's major oil and gas producing areas.

    In the last few years exploration and development in deepwater, defined as depths greater than 1,000ft, have accelerated rapidly, bringing new technological challenges.

    The use of platforms anchored to the floor of the Gulf has become technologically impractical and too costly, and the industry has developed new technology to meet the challenges. Consequently, the MMS has prepared this environmental assessment of this new deepwater technology.

    The environmental assessment, 'Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Operations and Activities: Environmental Assessment (MMS publication 2000-001)', which is now available, had the following objectives: it makes sure that deepwater activities are safe and environmentally sound; determines which oil and gas deepwater activities are substantially different from those in the shallower water of the OCS, and those that are substantially the same; lists and evaluates possible impacts of those activities; develops necessary mitigation measures to offset any negative impacts, and evaluates them; identifies research and study topics required for deepwater development and its impact on environmental resources; and summarises deepwater technologies, activities, and impacts.

    Charged with managing the development of natural gas and oil resources while protecting the environment and human safety, MMS reviewed deepwater operations by using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

    The Agency found that NEPA documents, established project-specific and program reviews, and existing mitigation measures adequately protects the environment and human life.

    Those activities that are substantially different from shallow-water OCS operations can be addressed through additional mitigation measures, preparation of a more-detailed environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, or through additionalresearch and scientific studies.

    Those mitigation measures proposed by the present environmental assessment will be studied by a team ofscientists.The MMS has also recently published 'Deepwater Development: A Reference Document for the DeepwaterEnvironmental Assessment, Gulf of Mexico OCS (1998 through 2007)'.

    This newly published report is a reference document accompanying the recently released Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Environmental Assessment (MMS 2000-001). It is part of the Gulf of Mexico deepwater strategy of the MMS.

    In preparing the environmental assessment and the reference document, MMS extensively researched deepwater development up to the present, evaluated it, and developed a scenario of where that development would likely lead.

    In gathering the background information, MMS authors used various industry journals and the large MMS database covering the facets of deepwater development, andheld discussions with oil and gas industry experts about development plans and technology trends affecting deepwater activities.

    Experts on the staff of MMS contributed to the evaluation and projections, forecasting ranges rather thanspecific parameters. Such forecasts, of course, are affected by fluctuating crude oil prices and unforeseen leaps in technology.

    Finally, the authors held discussions with the oil and gas industry deepwater group, DeepStar, and theGulf of Mexico Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) to gather additional information.

    Both DeepStar and OOC reviewed the technical descriptions and the scenario, and provided technical comments for MMS consideration.

    As a result, the scenario information is a consensus of what could potentially occur in deepwater during the 10-year period from 1998 through 2007.

    Apart from a discussion on the scenario, the document contains an in-depth description of the types of deepwater development systems such as subseasystems, compliant towers, spars, tension leg platforms, and floating production, storage, and offloading systems, as well as a discussion of deepwater operations.

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