Long-Term Effects of Drilling at Sea Cited

Exploratory offshore oil and gas drilling has a relatively small impact on sensitive deep-water animal and plant communities, but those effects are detectable decades after work has finished, a Department of Interior-sponsored study has concluded.

Results of the two-year, $640,000 federal study will be released at a 10 a.m. briefing today. The meeting will be held at the department's Mineral Management Service second-floor training room, 770 Paseo Camarillo in Camarillo.

The study--titled "Disturbance of Deep-Water Reef Communities by Exploratory Oil and Gas Operations in the Santa Maria Basin and Santa Barbara Channel"--examined nine sites from Santa Barbara to Point Arguello, near Lompoc, environmental scientist Frank Manago said.

"The conclusion was that there was some destruction, but it was a small percentage--it was less than 1%--of the habitat that was affected," he said. "[But] it takes a long time for these organisms to recover."

Researchers found evidence of minor disturbance at one site even though drilling occurred more than 25 years ago, he said.

The department initiated the study because of concerns over whether such drilling could harm the environment. Congress has passed a moratorium on oil and gas leasing off the California coast until 2000.

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