The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today reopened to commercial and recreational fishing 5,130 square miles of Gulf waters stretching from the far eastern coast of Louisiana, through Mississippi, Alabama, and the western Florida panhandle. The Mariner Energy oil platform just had an explosion is about 250 miles from today's reopening. The fire on a Mariner Energy Inc. oil and natural-gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico has been extinguished in an event that may prolong the U.S. drilling moratorium imposed after BP's record crude spill.
At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 54 miles north of the Deepwater/BP wellhead. The entire area is heavily fished by fishermen targeting snapper, mackerel, and shrimp. In addition, the area off the Florida panhandle currently open only to fin fish fishing will be opened to all fishing.
King mackerel are found Gulf wide in open near shore and coastal waters. While these fish as adults are seldom found inshore, they are found as near to shore as clear water can be found. While they are generally considered an open-water fish, in the northern Gulf of Mexico they are very commonly encountered near the perimeters of offshore oil and gas platforms.
The total area is about four percent of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and 21 percent of the current closed area, as last modified on August 27.
The closed area now covers 43,000 square miles, or about 18 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf. The boundary of the fishery closure has changed 26 times after it was first instituted on May 2, at which time it covered about 3 percent (6,817 square miles) of Gulf waters around the wellhead. As oil continued to spill from the wellhead, the area grew in size, peaking at 37 percent (88,522 square miles) of Gulf waters on June 2.
The Mariner fire occurred September 2 and there were no injuries or deaths. However, a mile long, 100-foot-wide (30-meter) sheen of oil was sighted near the burning Vermilion 380 platform, which stands in less than 400 feet of water, the Coast Guard said, citing a report from Houston based Mariner.
Mariner operates seven wells in the Vermilion 380 field. Proved reserves were estimated at 33.2 billion cubic feet of gas equivalent at the end of 2009 and were about 47 percent oil and 53 percent and gas liquids. Production last year was equivalent to 1.1 billion cubic feet of , Mariner said in a public filing.
At this time the Mariner incident is not having any effect on the BP incident. What this foretells for the overall oil drill rig industry is to be determined.