Offshore Energy

Offshore Energy: Oil & Gas operations in the deep sea

HOV Alvin and drilling ship – Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of Erik Cordes, Temple University, USA

The Issue:  The energy sector is in a time of transition. The oil and gas industry has been one of the most active industries on the continental margins and continues to expand into the deep sea, particularly in the exclusive economic zones of less developed countries and potentially with the exploitation of gas hydrate resources. The potential impacts of this development were profoundly illustrated by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout event, and the risks of additional incidents increase as activity moves deeper and deeper. However, this industry has taken a down-turn in recent years, particularly after the COVID pause in the global economy. Now, nations are turning to renewable sources of offshore energy, particularly wind power. While the risks of alternative energy are obviously far less than drilling for hydrocarbons, the basic principles of offshore environmental impact assessments that are common to the oil and gas industry are still applicable to renewable energy infrastructure as well as other activities in deep waters. Furthermore, if offshore drilling activity declines, what will be done with all of the production platforms, drilling rigs, oil wells, and pipelines that remain? How will we transition this workforce into a new, sustainable economy?

The Working Group: The Offshore Energy working group aims to facilitate science-policy engagement on deep-sea issues relevant to offshore drilling, offshore energy development, decommissioning, and economic transitions. We seek to apply our expertise in deep-sea survey techniques, environmental impact assessments, and energy policy to the pressing issues of our transitioning economy. The group currently has 74 members from academia, industry, and governments around the world.

Current Activities:

Specific priorities for Offshore Energy group

  • Increased communication and discussion of environmental issues around offshore energy in the deep oceans
  • Promotion of collaborative efforts to increase research on the environmental effects of offshore energy in the deep oceans
  • Improving the sustainability of offshore energy operations in the deep oceans
    • Research into better environmental management and monitoring
    • Improving environmental impact assessment
    • Knowledge exchange on environmental best practice
  • Planning for broad stakeholder workshop to look at science required and recommendations from the working group review article (see below) – to identify science-based knowledge needed for developing or modifying regulations as well as guidelines for and evaluation of EIAs
  • Consideration of a further workshop to develop capacity to design and implement EIAs for offshore oil and gas industrial activities in developing nations
  • Appraisal of the applicability of existing oil and gas assessments and regulations for offshore gas hydrate resources
  • Establishment of collaborative relationship with International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA)
  • Promotion of collaborative efforts to increase research in the following areas:
    1. Effects of sound on fish and invertebrates
    2. Effects of impacts on processes at microbial level
    3. Interactions between climatic variables and drilling impacts
    4. In situ and ex situ studies of effects of dispersants on deep-sea organisms
    5. Recovery studies
    6. Cumulative effect studies
    7. More studies to determine distance of set-back and buffer zones
    8. Robust approaches for biodiversity assessment using meta-barcoding/eDNA
  • Encouragement of responsible development by promoting cost-effective MPA design, encouraging the use of VME and EBSA concepts, providing examples of good adaptive management and examples of levels of acceptable change

Group Publications

  • NEW Paper:
    Bravo, ME, Brandt MI, van der Grient JMA, Dahlgren TG, Esquete P,  Gollner S, Jones DOB, Levin LA, McClain CR, Narayanaswamy BE, Sutton T, Victorero T, Cordes EE. (2023) “Insights from the Management of Offshore Energy Resources: Toward an Ecosystem-Services Based Management Approach for Deep-Ocean Industries.” Frontiers in Marine Science 9.
  • Policy Brief: In 2021, the Offshore Energy Group published a policy brief titled “Redefining the Influence of Chemosynthetic Ecosystems for Effective Management.” You can read the brief here.
  • Featured Review Paper by the Group: Cordes EE, Jones DOB, Schlacher TA, Amon DJ, Bernardino AF, Bett BJ, Brooke S, Carney R, DeLeo DM, Dunlop KM, Escobar E, Gates AR, Génio L, Gobin J, Henry L-A, Herrera S, Hoyt S, Joye S, Kark S, Mestre NC, Metaxas A, Pfeifer S, Sink K, Sweetman AK, Witte U. (2016) Environmental impacts of the deep-water oil and gas industry: a review to guide management strategies. Front. Environ. Sci. 4: 58. doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2016.00058

Other publications



  • Georgian SE, Saunders M, Fisher CR, Kramer K, Shedd W, Roberts HH, Lewis C, Cordes EE. (2020) Habitat suitability modeling to predict the spatial distribution of cold-water coral communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Journal of Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/jbi.13844
  • Jones DOB, Ardron JA, Colaço A, Durden JM (2020) Environmental considerations for impact and preservation reference zones for deep-sea polymetallic nodule mining. Marine Policy 118. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2018.10.025
  • Sutton TT, Frank TM, Romero IC, Judkins H (2020) Chapter 24: As Gulf oil extraction goes deeper, who is at risk? Community structure, distribution, and connectivity of the deep-pelagic fauna. In: Murawski, S.A., Ainsworth C., Gilbert, S., Hollander, D., Paris, C.B., Schlüter, M. and Wetzel, D. (Eds.) Scenarios and Responses to Future Deep Oil Spills – Fighting the Next War. Springer.
  • Weinnig AM, Hallaj A*, Gomez CE, Cordes EE. (2020) Assessing the impact of multiple stressors on a cold-water coral: the influence of temperature and pH on the phenotypic response of Lophelia pertusa to oil and dispersant exposure. Scientific Reports. 10: 1768. DOI: 10.1038/ s41598-020-58556-9


  • Drazen J, Smith C, Gjerde K, Au W, Black J, Carter G, Clark M, Durden J, Dutrieux P, Goetze E, Haddock S, Hatta M, Hauton C, Hill P, Koslow J, Leitner A, Measures C, Pacini A, Parrish F, Peacock T, Perelman J, Sutton T, Taymans C, Tunnicliffe V, Watling L, Yamamoto H, Young E, Ziegler A (2019) Report of the workshop Evaluating the nature of midwater mining plumes and their potential effects on midwater ecosystems. Research Ideas and Outcomes 5: e33527.
  • Gates, AR, Horton, T, Serpell-Stevens, A, Chandler, C, Grange, LJ, Robert, K, Bevan, A, Jones, DOB (2019) Ecological Role of an Offshore Industry Artificial Structure. Frontiers in Marine Science 6. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00675
  • Levin LA, Bett BJ, Gates AR, Heimbach P, Howe BM, Janssen F, McCurdy A, Ruhl HA, Snelgrove P, Stocks KI, Bailey D, Baumann-Pickering S, Beaverson C, Benfield MC, Booth DJ, Carreiro-Silva M, Colaço A, Eblé MC, Fowler AM, Gjerde KM, Jones DOB, Katsumata K, Kelley D, Le Bris N, Leonardi AP, Lejzerowicz F, Macreadie PI, McLean D, Meitz F, Morato T, Netburn A, Pawlowski J, Smith CR, Sun S, Uchida H, Vardaro MF, Venkatesan R, Weller RA (2019) Global Observing Needs in the Deep Ocean. Frontiers in Marine Science 6. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00241
  • Milligan RJ, Bernard AM, Boswell KM, Bracken-Grissom HD, D’Elia MA, DeRada S, Easson CG, English D, Eytan RI, Finnegan KA, Hu C, Lembke C, Lopez JV, Penta B, Richards TT, Romero IC, Shivji M, Timm L, Warren JD, Weber M, Wells RJD, Sutton TT (2019) The application of novel research technologies by the Deep Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico (DEEPEND) Consortium. Marine Technology Society Journal. 52(6): 81-86.


  • Bredariol, TO, and d’Avignon, AL (2018). Institutions and environmental governance: The case of environmental permitting for offshore oil and gas projects. Ambiente e Sociedade 21.
  • Cordes EE, Levin LA. (2018) Exploration before exploitation (editorial). Science 359: 719.
  • DeLeo DM, Lengyel SD, Quattrini AM, Kulathinal RJ, Cordes EE. (2018) Gene expression profiling reveals deep-sea coral response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Mol Ecol 27: 4066-4077. doi: 10.1111/mec.14847
  • Fowler AM, Jørgensen A-M, Svendsen JC, Macreadie PI, Jones DOB, Boon AR, Booth DJ, Brabant R, Callahan E, Claisse JT, Dahlgren TG, Degraer S, Dokken QR, Gill AB, Johns DG, Leewis RJ, Lindeboom HJ, Linden O, May R, Murk AJ, Ottersen G, Schroeder DM, Shastri SM, Teilmann J, Todd V, Van Hoey G, Vanaverbeke J, Coolen JWP (2018) Environmental benefits of leaving offshore infrastructure in the ocean. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 16:571-578. DOI: 10.1002/fee.1827
  • Macreadie PI, McLean DL, Thomson PG, Partridge JC, Jones DOB, Gates AR, Benfield MC, Collin SP, Booth DJ, Smith LL, Techera E, Skropeta D, Horton T, Pattiaratchi C, Bond T, Fowler AM (2018) Eyes in the sea: Unlocking the mysteries of the ocean using industrial, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Science of the Total Environment 634:1077-1091. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.049
  • Romero IC, Sutton TT, Carr B, Quintana-Rizzo E, Ross SW, Hollander DJ, Torres JJ (2018) Decadal Assessment of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Mesopelagic Fishes from the Gulf of Mexico Reveals Exposure to Oil-Derived Sources. Environmental Science & Technology, 52(19): 10985-10996.
  • Vad J, Kazanidis G, Henry L-A, Jones DOB, Tendal OS, Christiansen S, Henry TB, Roberts JM (2018) Potential impacts of offshore oil and gas activities on deep-sea sponges and the habitats they form. Advances in Marine Biology. 79:33-60. DOI: 10.1016/bs.amb.2018.01.001
  • Woodall LC, Andradi-Brown DA, Brierley AS, Clark MR, Connelly D, Hall RA, Howell KL, Huvenne VAI, Linse K, Ross RE, Snelgrove P, Stefanoudis PV, Sutton TT, Taylor M, Thornton TF, Rogers AD (2018) A multidisciplinary approach for generating globally consistent data on mesophotic, deep-pelagic, and bathyal biological communities. Oceanography 31(3):


  • Almada G, Bernardino, AF (2017). Conservation of deep-sea ecosystems within offshore oil fields on the Brazilian margin, SW Atlantic. Biol. Cons. 206: 92.
  • Amon DJ, Gobin J, Van Dover CL, Levin LA, Marsh L and Raineault NA (2017) Characterization of Methane-Seep Communities in a Deep-Sea Area Designated for Oil and Natural Gas Exploitation Off Trinidad and Tobago. Front. Mar. Sci. 4:342. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00342
  • Bernardino AF, Sumida PYG (2017) Deep risks from offshore development. Science 358 (6361): 312.
  • Burdett EC, Fine C, Sutton TT, Cook AB, Frank TM (2017) Geographic and depth distributions, ontogeny, and reproductive seasonality decapod shrimps (Caridea: Oplophoridae) from the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Bulletin of Marine Science 93(3): 743-767.
  • Gates AR, Benfield MC, Booth DJ, Fowler AM, Skropeta D, Jones DOB (2017) Deep-sea observations at hydrocarbon drilling locations: Contributions from the SERPENT Project after 120 field visits. -sea Research II. 137:463-479. DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2016.07.011
  • Reygondeau G, Guidi L, Beaugrand G, Henson SA, Koubbi P, MacKenzie BR, Sutton TT, Fiorini M, Maury O (2017) Global biogeochemical provinces of the mesopelagic zone. Journal of Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/jbi.13149.
  • Sutton TT, Clark MR, Dunn DC, Halpin PN, Rogers AD, Guinotte J, Bograd SJ, Angel MV, Perez JAA, Wishner K, Haedrich RL, Lindsay DJ, Drazen JC, Vereshchaka A, Piatkowski U, Morato T, Błachowiak-Samołyk T, Robison BH, Gjerde KM, Pierrot-Bults A, Bernal P, Reygondeau G, Heino M (2017) A global biogeographic classification of the mesopelagic zone. Deep Sea Research I 126: 85-102.


  • Cordes EE, Auscavitch S, Baums IB, Fisher CR, Girard F, Gomez CLS, McClain-Counts J, Mendlovitz HP, Saunders M, Smith S, Vohsen S, Weinheimer A. (2016) ECOGIG: Oil spill effects on deep-sea corals through the lenses of natural hydrocarbon seeps and long time series. Oceanography 29: 28-29.
  • Cordes EE, Jones DOB, Schlacher TA, Amon DJ, Bernardino AF, Brooke S, Carney R, DeLeo DM, Dunlop KM, Escobar E, Gates AR, Génio L, Gobin J, Henry L-A, Herrera S, Hoyt S, Joye S, Kark S, Mestre NC, Metaxas A, Pfeifer S, Sink K, Sweetman AK, Witte U. (2016) Environmental impacts of the deep-water oil and gas industry: a review to guide management strategies. Front Environ Sci 4: 58. doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2016.00058
  • DeLeo DM, Ruiz-Ramos D, Baums IB, Cordes EE. (2016) Response of deep-water corals to oil and chemical dispersant exposure. Deep-Sea Res II 129: 137-147. doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2015.02.028
  • Demopoulos AWJ, Bourque JR, Cordes EE, Stamler KM. (2016) Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep-sea coral sediment communities. MEPS 561: 51-68. doi:10.3354/meps11905
  • Fisher CR, Montagna PA, Sutton TT (2016) How did the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impact deep-sea ecosystems? Oceanography 29(3):182–195.
  • Joye SB, Bracco A, Ozgokmen T, Chanton JP, Grosell M, MacDonald IR, Cordes EE, Montoya JP, Passow U. (2016) The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem, six years after the Macondo Oil Well Blowout. Deep-Sea Res II 129: 4-19. doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2016.04.018
  • Main CE, Yool A, Holliday NP, Popova EE, Jones DOB, Ruhl HA (2016) Simulating pathways of subsurface oil in the Faroe–Shetland Channel using an ocean general circulation model. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 114(1):315–326. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.09.041


  • Cordes EE, Berlet SP, Cardman Z, Dannenberg R, Demopoulos AWJ, Georgian SE, King C, McKean DL, Young DM. (2014) Exploring deep-sea coral communities and the effects of oil and gas inputs to the Gulf of Mexico. Oceanography 27: 28-29. doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2014.supplement.01
  • Doughty CL, Quattrini AM, Cordes EE. (2014) Insights into the population dynamics of the deep-sea coral genus Paramuricea in the Gulf of Mexico. Deep-Sea Res II 99: 71-82. doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2013.05.023
  • Fisher CR, Demopoulos AWJ, Cordes EE, Baums IB, White HK, Bourque JR. (2014) Coral communities as indicators of ecosystem-level impacts resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Bioscience. 64: 796-807. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biu129
  • Fisher CR, Hsing P-Y, Kaiser C, Yoerger D, Roberts HH, Shedd W, Cordes EE, Shank TS, Berlet SP, Saunders M, Larcom EA, Brooks J. (2014) Footprint of Deepwater Horizon blowout impact to deep-water coral communities. PNAS. 111: 11744-11749. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1403492111


  • White HK, Hsing PY, Cho W, Shank TM, Cordes EE, Quattrini AM, Nelson RK, Camilli R, Demopoulos A, German CR, Brooks JM, Roberts HH, Shedd W, Reddy CM, Fisher CR. (2012) Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico. PNAS. 109: 20303-20308. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1118029109.
  • White HK, Hsing PY, Cho W, Shank TM, Cordes EE, Quattrini AM, Nelson RK, Camilli R, Demopoulos A, German CR, Brooks JM, Roberts HH, Shedd W, Reddy CM, Fisher CR. (2012) Reply to Boehm and Carragher: Multiple lines of evidence link deep-water coral damage to Deepwater Horizon oil spill. PNAS. 109: E2648. doi:10.1073/pnas.1210413109.