Date ArticleType
8/29/2016 Member News
ONS 2016: International Research of the E&P Sound & Marine Life JIP

ONS 2016: International research of the E&P Sound & Marine Life JIP



In recent years, there has been increasing attention on anthropogenic sound in the marine environment, including those associated with oil and gas industry activities. Robust research is key to truly understanding any potential impact of these and other marine activities, and implementing appropriate mitigation measures. The E&P Sound & Marine Life (SML) Joint Industry Program (JIP) is the largest non-government funder of this form of research, which is aimed at increasing technical knowledge for both the sector and the broader academic and stakeholder communities.

The SML JIP, under the auspices of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), is a partnership of twelve oil and gas companies and the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC). The majority of research is carried out independently by researchers receiving contracts awarded by a competitive bid process. In a few cases, studies are commissioned via sole sourcing to an organization that has specific experience and/or resources that are identified as being critical to addressing the objectives of a given study. SML JIP policies require that all research is shared in public reports and submitted to peer-reviewed scientific journals for publication to ensure maximum transparency and value to the wider research community.

To advance understanding of the interaction between sound from oil and gas operations and marine life, the SML JIP identifies and commissions research to:

1. Support planning of E&P projects and risk assessments
2. Provide the basis for appropriate operational measures that are protective of marine life 
3. Inform policy and regulatory development.

The oil and gas industry operates across the globe and therefore research supported by the JIP is global in its approach, benefiting the entire industry, regulatory and scientific community. The research and projects discussed below are either conducted in Europe or have specific relevance to the Northern Hemisphere region as well as global relevance.

Svein Vaage Broadband Airgun Measurements

Data on the sound output from airguns at frequencies above 1,000 Hz had never previously been systematically collected, as historical focus for the purposes of imaging geological structures had been limited to below 1,000 Hz.

The Svein Vaage Broadband Measurement project, which took place in Norway, acquired a comprehensive dataset that enables possible improvements in the accuracy of existing seismic source modeling codes at higher frequencies (above 500 Hz). The data will also help to quantify sound outputs from seismic air sources above 500 Hz.

Measurements were collected from a floating barge in a Norwegian fjord in which a seismic air source was surrounded by 19 hydrophones in the near-, mid- and far-fields. An accelerometer was used to measure particle motion in the near field. Seventy-three combinations of airgun type and volume sizes were measured, including G, Bolt, sleeve and GI sources, as well as a number of multi-airgun clusters typically used in source arrays. Each combination was measured at a range of water depths and operating pressures to obtain the most comprehensive airgun output measurements ever made for this frequency range.

These data provide accurate source information which can be used in existing propagation models to improve estimates of how sound from seismic sources propagates in various environments. These data will also contribute to informing impact assessments for seismic operations in various marine habitats, leading to more scientifically robust risk evaluation and mitigation strategies.

Airgun effects on Arctic seals: Auditory detection, masking and TTS in Pinnipeds

Previously inaccessible areas in the Arctic are being opened to industry operations. Therefore, data on the potential effects of industry sound on hearing and behavior in Arctic marine mammals is an area of interest for many stakeholders and a research priority for the JIP. The JIP supported research into the potential effects of industry sound on Arctic seals (pinnipeds) to further advance our understanding.

The two-stage approach to this Arctic pinniped hearing study began with training ringed, spotted and bearded seals to participate in behavioral hearing tests. Aerial and underwater audiograms and critical ratios have already been published for the spotted and ringed seals, and bearded seals are currently being trained to produce similar data. The hearing data collected for spotted seals are the first available for this species. The study found that the critical ratios -- a measure of the ability to detect signals in the presence of other sounds -- were among the lowest ratios ever recorded for mammals. This indicates that spotted seals are less impacted than other marine mammals by sounds that could mask communication.

The second stage of research will involve the effects on hearing ability of exposure to multiple airgun pulses and masking from distant and nearby seismic sources. When completed, this research will describe the auditory capabilities of Arctic seals and improve our ability to predict the effects of sound exposure on these species. These data from this project will fill critical data gaps for some Arctic pinnipeds, provide rationale for extending results to other species of Arctic pinnipeds, and enable decision-making based on best available science.

Behavioral Responses of Fish to Seismic Sources

Understanding the potential effects of acoustic sources on fish behavior presents challenges due to the vast number of species and the complexity of measuring the behavior of wild, unrestrained fish.

To meet these challenges, the SML JIP ran workshops in Norway and Canada to discuss the issue and then to review various approaches for assessing the potentially large scale impacts of seismic activity on fish over time.

These workshops laid the groundwork for preparing and releasing Request for Proposals for fish behavioral studies to develop a framework for assessing potential impacts of acoustic disturbance of fish populations. It also sought ways to measure fish behavior, specify experimental design and research strategies, and meet the challenges of field experiments.

Leiden University has undertaken a review into the effects of sound-producing activities, particularly seismic operations, on fish behaviour. The scope of this work includes an assessment of the population consequences of behavioral interference that may affect fish populations, plus the potential benefits and secondary impacts to fishery economics.

The results of these and other JIP SML research studies have informed oil and gas producers and international governments and regulators, ensuring that they are provided with scientific data upon which they can make informed decisions.