As a Federal agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), the Minerals Management Service (MMS) maintains a leasing program for commercial oil and gas development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Oil and gas activities in deep water (areas deeper than 340 meters) have proceeded at an unprecedented rate, and have led to concerns regarding the accidental release of oil near the seafloor. As production increases, the potential for an oil/gas spill increases. In addition to the environmental impacts of the oil spilled, major concerns from a deepwater oil/gas spill include fire, toxic hazard to the people working on the surface installations, and loss of buoyancy by ships and any floating installations. Oil and natural gas releases in deep water behave much differently than in shallow water, primarily due to density stratification, high pressures, and low temperatures. It is important to know whether oil will surface and if so, where, when, and how thick the oil slick will be. To meet these new challenges, spill response plans need to be upgraded. An important component of such a plan would be a model to simulate the behavior of oil and gasses accidentally released in deep water. This has significant implications for environmental impact assessment, oil-spill cleanup, contingency planning, and source tracing.

The MMS uses the Clarkson Deepwater Oil and Gas Blowout (CDOG) plume model to simulate the behavior of oil and gas accidentally released in deepwater areas. The CDOG model is a near field model. In addition, MMS uses an adaptation of the Princeton Ocean Model called the Princeton Regional Ocean Forecast and Hindcast System for the Gulf of Mexico (PROFS-GOM). This model is a far field model and is employed to provide three dimensional current, temperature, and salinity data to the CDOG model.

The PROFS-GOM model and the CDOG model are used to simulate deepwater oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. Modeling results indicate that the two models can provide important information on the behavior of oil spills in deepwater and assist MMS in estimating the associated environmental risks. Ultimately, this information will be used in the pertinent environmental impact assessments MMS performs and in the development of deepwater oil-spill response plans.

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