New technology could reduce damaging impact of oil and gas noise pollution on whales and dolphins

New technology could reduce damaging impact of oil and gas noise pollution on wh
Friday, 7 July, 2017
London, UK

The seismic industry could reduce its impact on the marine environment, particularly on sound-sensitive whales and dolphins, by using new technology during oil and gas exploration, new research has found.

Typical seismic surveying for oil and gas exploration is known to produce ocean noise pollution from seismic airguns at levels damaging to whales and dolphins, which rely on sound underwater to navigate, find food and mates, and avoid predators. Fish, scallops, lobsters, squid and other marine life are also known to be impacted. The seismic airguns currently used have changed very little in the last 30 years and the sounds they generate are powerful enough to be heard across thousands of miles of ocean and penetrate up to 60 miles into the seabed.

In their recently published paper ‘A modelling comparison between received sound levels produced by a marine Vibroseis array and those from an airgun array for some typical seismic survey scenarios’, authors  explored use of a new system known as ‘marine Vibroseis’. They compared systems with equal energy output, showing that aspects of the new technology are likely to pose less environmental risk than airguns.

Sharon Livermore, Marine Conservation Programme Officer with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and one of the authors of the paper, said: “With seismic surveys usually running 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months at a time, and airgun shots going off every 10 seconds, it is no surprise that this activity can affect whales and dolphins both immediately and long-term. Effects of exposure to this noise can cause stress, displacement from usual habitat, changes in vocalisations which can affect mating, and even permanent hearing damage. Any alternatives to traditional seismic surveys which are less damaging to our marine life are important discoveries which warrant further consideration.”

The study compared conventional seismic airguns to the new technology in a variety of scenarios such as shallow water, continental shelf and deep water, and found that marine Vibroseis offered several environmental advantages in terms of its acoustic footprint. This was particularly evident at ranges close to the sound source, which would mean a lower risk of injury to animals that enter this zone without being detected. The benefits of marine Vibroseis over airguns were most apparent in shallow waters, which are often the most productive and biologically rich.

Co-author Lindy Weilgart, Adjunct Research Associate in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University, Canada, said: “We have shown that the new technology of marine Vibroseis has potential to be less impactful than airguns to marine life both in terms of lowering the loudest noise levels within five kilometres and even sound exposure levels (which incorporate the time marine life is exposed to noise) at distances of over 100 km. While all marine life should benefit, the greatest advantages of marine Vibroseis are for marine mammals such as harbour porpoises, beaked whales, dolphins, narwhals and belugas.”

Most of the noise generated by seismic airguns is wasted energy and not actually used by industry, but nevertheless has serious consequences for marine life. While use of seismic airguns is a crude technique which does not allow the power to be easily adjusted to suit conditions, the sound produced by marine Vibroseis can be modified in real time, thus possibly also providing a benefit to industry.

IFAW is calling on the seismic industry to do all it can to reduce the amount of noise pollution its activities generate in our oceans. If the industry were to really engage in research to reduce its environmental damage there is scope for even more improvements than suggested by the results in this research paper. This is just one example of how new technology could reduce our impact on the environment.

Ends

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Clare Sterling at IFAW on mobile +44 (0)7917 507717 or email csterling@ifaw.org

Alternatively visit www.ifaw.org

Notes to Editors: ‘A modelling comparison between received sound levels produced by a marine Vibroseis array and those from an airgun array for some typical seismic survey scenarios’ was recently published in Marine Pollution Bulletin and authored by Alec J Duncan, Senior Research Fellow at Curtin University, Western Australia; Linda S Weilgart, Adjunct Research Associate, Dalhousie University, Canada; Russell Leaper, Marine Mammal Scientist, IFAW; Michael Jasny, Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Sharon Livermore, Marine Conservation Programme Officer, IFAW.

To view the paper visit https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1V8Lc,ashmJEr

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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