Oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico announced that 15 deepwater discoveries and seven new projects began production last year at depths of 1,000 feet or greater, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service said at the 2009 Offshore Technology Conference Monday.

During 2008, 57 percent of all the leases in that area were located in water depths greater than 1,000 feet, totaling 141 active deepwater projects. The deepest prospect was the Diamond registered by Murphy Oil Corp. at 9,975 feet.

The offshore energy industry continues to confront and overcome technological challenges as energy production moves into deeper waters in the Gulf of Mexico, said Regional Director LARS Herbst in a statement. As the trend to deepwater continues, our emphasis is focused on safe and environmentally responsible energy development, which remains a central part of the mission at MMS.

Oil production in the GOM is forecasted to increase over the next several years, possibly reaching 1.8 million barrels of oil per day, the MMS said. Gas production is forecasted to continue its decline over the next four years.