Comparative Environmental Sensitivity of Offshore Gulf of Mexico Waters Potentially Impacted by Ultra-Deep Oil Well Blowouts

  • Emily ChancellorEmail author
  • Steven A. Murawski
  • Claire B. Paris
  • Larry Perruso
  • Natalie Perlin


Environmental sensitivity indices (ESIs) have long been used to identify coastal and shoreline resources particularly vulnerable to oil spills and ensuing mitigation measures. In the Gulf of Mexico, oil production by the United States and Mexico has increasingly focused on deepwater sources. As oil exploration and production continue further offshore, deepwater and open ocean pelagic resources increasingly become the focus of susceptibility to oil well blowouts. Methodologies are proposed to spatially quantify ESIs specifically for offshore living marine resources. A multi-attribute utility model is proposed to integrate biological resource sensitivity measures and measures of potential economic losses to define spatially explicit environmental sensitivity. Model sensitivity is examined using three weighting schemes for various environmental attributes. The relative environmental sensitivities of four simulated deepwater blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico were analyzed and compared. While differences were found between four oil well blowout scenarios in terms of the overall sensitivity and to the individual attributes, results were relatively insensitive to the weights assigned to various attributes. The uses of ESIs in optimizing oil production locations to minimize potential impacts on sensitive ecological resources and economic uses are discussed.


Environmental sensitivity indices ESI Multi-attribute utility theory Gulf of Mexico 



This research was made possible by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, CIMAGE II/III. Data for this chapter were collected under the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) or provided by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The authors would like to thank Allison Shideler for providing HMS landings data and Jo Williams and James Primrose for providing shrimp landings and revenue estimates. The scientific results and conclusions, as well as any views or opinions expressed herein, are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of NOAA or the Department of Commerce.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily Chancellor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Steven A. Murawski
    • 1
  • Claire B. Paris
    • 2
  • Larry Perruso
    • 3
  • Natalie Perlin
    • 2
  1. 1.University of South Florida, College of Marine ScienceSt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.University of Miami, Department of Ocean Sciences, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceMiamiUSA
  3. 3.National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science CenterMiamiUSA

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