Seismic surveys used in oil and gas exploration and development employ powerful, repeated airgun pulses. This noise is dangerous for nearby animals and can force whales to move away from their best feeding areas.
Monitoring and Mitigation Plans
Following the WGWAP’s recommendations, Sakhalin Energy postponed a seismic survey planned for 2009 until June 2010. Measures to monitor and minimize the impacts of the survey were developed collaboratively by the WGWAP and Sakhalin Energy, and were put in place by the company in 2010.
The planning for the 2010 Astokh 4D seismic survey represented a major investment of time by the WGWAP, Sakhalin Energy and the Seismic Survey Task Force of the WGWAP. The Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (MMP) finally adopted by SEIC was the result of five Task Force meetings and reviews at five WGWAP meetings. This was one of the most complete MMPs focused on whales’ conservation developed for a seismic survey anywhere in the world.
During the preparations for the 2015 Piltun-Astokh 4D seismic survey, the WGWAP issued a statement of concern to which Sakhalin Energy responded. The company decided to proceed with the survey, and worked with the WGWAP Noise Task Force to update the Monitoring and Mitigation Plan to address the 2015 specific circumstances.
IUCN’s Independent Observer
As required by the MMP, an Independent Observer, contracted by IUCN, was present in the field, to observe the implementation of the 2010 and 2015 seismic surveys. The Observer’s role was to assess how well the measures described in the company’s Monitoring and Mitigation Plans were followed. The observations assist the Company in evaluating the effectiveness of the mitigation efforts and provide useful insights to the WGWAP for the recommendations in relation to future surveys.
Sakhalin Energy is the only energy company operating at Sakhalin that allows the presence of an Independent Observer as part of its seismic surveys monitoring and mitigation programme.
WGWAP Advisory Group
An Advisory Group composed of Panel Members was established both in 2010 and 2015 to provide advice to the Company, as deemed necessary during the survey, for example if circumstances required the Company to consider modifying its Plan.
Responsible Practices for Seismic Surveys
Building on the work conducted between 2006-2012, WGWAP and Sakhalin Energy experts wrote a scientific paper on Responsible Practices for Minimizing and Monitoring Environmental Impacts of Marine Seismic Surveys with an Emphasis on Marine Mammals, which was published in the journal Aquatic Mammals at the end of 2013.
Based on the experience in developing and conducting Sakhalin Energy’s surveys and associated mitigation and monitoring programme, the authors propose a broader approach that can be adapted to seismic surveys in any environmentally sensitive area. Each such survey, however, must take into account the specific circumstances – for example, local species, environmental features, the history and nature of other operations in the area.
The WGWAP experts are currently working on the further development of a detailed manual to be published in 2016.