Abstract

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI), Minerals Management Service (MMS) prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS)1 to evaluate potential environmental effects of the proposed use of floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) systems in the deepwater parts (i.e., in areas >650 feet [200 meters] in depth) of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in the Central and Western Planning Areas of the Gulf of Mexico. The EIS was prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as amended, 42 U.S.C.§§ 4321-4370(d)(1994).

The FPSO EIS is a programmatic document to examine the concept of, and fundamental issues associated with, the petroleum industry's proposed use of FPSO's on the OCS of the Gulf of Mexico. The EIS considers a generic FPSO system and operation, as well as a range of technical variations. The "base case" evaluated is a permanently moored, double-hulled, ship-shaped FPSO with up to 1 million barrels of crude oil storage capability.

This NEPA/EIS process will result in one of three basic decisions by the Federal Government:

  1. conceptual approval of FPSO's,

  2. conceptual approval of FPSO's with certain restrictions or conditions, or

  3. a decision for no action (i.e., no conceptual approval by the Government at this time).

In accordance with the requirements of the NEPA, the Government's decision will be detailed in a Record of Decision (ROD) and published in the Federal Register. The ROD has not yet been issued at the time of this writing.

Background

In 1996, OCS operators, as well as FPSO operators and builders, began having serious discussions with the MMS about the possibility of using FPSO systems in the Gulf of Mexico. FPSO's are floating production systems that store crude oil in tanks located in the hull of the system and offload the crude to shuttle tankers or ocean-going barges for transport to shore. FPSO's may be used as production facilities to develop oil fields in the deepwater areas of the Gulf of Mexico OCS that otherwise would challenge or exceed the limits of current deepwater production and transportation infrastructure and technologies.

Recognizing that the use of FPSO's would represent new technology and potential impacts in the Gulf of Mexico, the MMS approached the issue on several fronts. The EIS was initiated to evaluate the potential environmental impacts. The EIS process provided for public disclosure and input. The MMS funded a comparative risk assessment to evaluate the risks associated with FPSO technology as well as those associated with three types of existing Gulf of Mexico deepwater facilities. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were consulted on FPSO-related issues under their respective jurisdictions. The MMS sponsored and participated in several joint Federal/industry workshops to identify the technical, safety, and environmental issues and information needs related to FPSO's, as well as to gain a better understanding of FPSO technology and scope of operations around the world.

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