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NORTH CAROLINA ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES REVIEW PANEL COMPLETES STUDY

NORTH CAROLINA ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES REVIEW PANEL COMPLETES STUDY
 WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- A panel appointed by Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan and North Carolina Gov. James G. Martin to assess information relating to exploration for natural gas offshore North Carolina has submitted its report to the secretary.
 The Environmental Sciences Review Panel (ESRP) was charged to review scientific and socioeconomic data relating to Mobil Oil's plan to drill an exploratory well 45 miles offshore Cape Hatteras in an area thought to contain natural gas and known as the Manteo prospect. The plan has been on hold while the panel completed its assessment.
 "On the basis of our review the probability of any significant environmental effects from a single well is extremely low," said ESRP Chairman Dr. John D. Costlow. "We have recommended only socioeconomic studies and an expanded survey of bottom-dwelling organisms in the vicinity of the Manteo drillsite prior to drilling the first exploratory well." A marine biologist and former director of Duke University's Marine Laboratory at Beaufort, N.C., Costlow was appointed to the ESRP by Martin.
 "I am pleased with the findings of the panel," said Lujan. "The agreement with Gov. Martin two-and-a-half years ago pledged a detailed review of the possible environmental effects of offshore exploration. The governor demanded assurances, and this report should resolve our mutual concerns. No exploratory well proposal has been studied as extensively and thoroughly as this one."
 Costlow agreed, saying, "A tremendous amount of work has been accomplished by the Minerals Management Service. The panel, however, did express concern about the Oil Spill Risk Analysis model, certain aspects of the ecological data, and the need for more socioeconomic information." Costlow said the report recommends beginning the other studies, but stated there is no need to complete them until further exploratory drilling is initiated.
 Lujan said the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has already started work on a number of the panel's recommendations, including all of those to be completed before beginning exploration.
 Scott Sewell, director of MMS, the agency which regulates offshore energy development, said, "Mobil's request for permits to drill an exploratory well will be considered at an appropriate time based on the progress of the recommended studies."
 Lujan praised Costlow and the other panel members for their work: Dr. John Teal, a marine ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Dr. Ken Brink, physical oceanographer at Woods Hole; Dr. Charles Peterson, benthic ecologist from the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; and Dr. Michael Orbach, a sociologist from East Carolina University.
 The congressionally mandated report recommends other studies to analyze potential impacts of exploration, development and production. After assessing the ESRP report, the secretary is to report his recommendations to the Congress.
 Copies of the ESRP report are expected to be available in early February. The status of studies recommended by the ESRP follows.
 Study Recommendations of the North Carolina
 Environmental Sciences Review Panel (ESRP)
 The ESRP recommends a limited suite of studies be performed prior to drilling the first exploratory well at the Manteo 467 site. Additional studies are recommended for initiation "immediately" but do not need to be completed until the initiation of further exploration/delineation drilling. Further study recommendations are phased with development and production at the Manteo 467 site.
 The information the ESRP recommended gathering prior to drilling the first well at the Manteo 467 site includes:
 1. A set of socioeconomic studies to address the following topics: base case characterization analysis; community studies; aesthetic and perceptual issue analysis; infrastructure issue analysis; and a socioeconomic monitoring study. Due to the limited potential for impact and the small scale of drilling the first exploratory well, these socioeconomic studies are limited in scope, and with the exception of the monitoring study, are expected to be complete in about one year. The objectives and exact methodology to be used in each socioeconomic study are not clearly defined in the ESRP report. Dr. Orbach, the social scientist on the ESRP, has agreed to assist MMS in better defining these studies. The socioeconomic subgroup of OCS Scientific Committee has also agreed to provide advice. The MMS has set aside funds to initiate these studies in 1992 and has already begun planning for the procurement of these studies.
 2. The conduct of a limited bottom survey of the Manteo 467 site is also recommended. The purpose would be to determine the geographic extent of the unusually rich and diverse biological community known to exist in the vicinity of the proposed drill site. If more than 5 percent of the surface area of this community could be covered by drilling-related discharges, then a follow-up study of recovery time for the affected community is recommended. As a part of the planning for this study, data from the recently completed series of submersible cruises supported by the National Underwater Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington will be reviewed. A determination will be made as to what additional data will be required to accomplish the objectives of the recommended study.
 Other ecological studies of "the Point," an area off the North Carolina coast and the "Sargassum" sea weed community, were recommended to be started but will not have to be completed before further delineation drilling. The need for these studies will be evaluated after the results are available from the first exploratory well. The ESRP report stated that the first exploratory well should not be held up by these studies. The decision to fund them is predicated on favorable results from the first exploratory well; an assessment of the need for them in light of the existing database at that time; and the review of other relevant, ongoing studies of fisheries and the "Sargassum" community being supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in Beaufort.
 -0- 1/27/92
 /CONTACT: Thomas C. DeRocco of the Minerals Management Service, 202-208-3983/ CO: U.S. Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service ST: District of Columbia IN: OIL SU:


MH-DC -- DC020 -- 3845 01/27/92 14:51 EST
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