Date ArticleType
9/25/2018 Member News
'Mud and Confusion': Oil and Gas Industry Goes On Defense as Studies Show Offshore Exploration Could Kill Zooplankton

'Mud and Confusion': Oil and Gas Industry Goes On Defense as Studies Show Offshore Exploration Could Kill Zooplankton

By Graham Readfearn

We knew it was going to cause a stir,” said Australian marine scientist Dr. Robert McCauley.

McCauley was referring to the results of an experiment testing the impacts of a common oil and gas industry technique in waters off southern Australia, which were reported in a scientific paper in June 2017.

The world’s powerful offshore oil and gas industry has used seismic surveys for decades as the primary way to locate fossil fuels under the ocean floor.

Impacts of Seismic Surveys 

Seismic surveys involve an underwater air gun pulled behind a boat and fired at intervals, and as the shock waves bounce off the sea floor and return to sensors, they help reveal where oil and gas might be. 

McCauley, an associate professor at Curtin University in Western Australia, and his colleagues wanted to know what these seismic surveys did to zooplankton — an organism at the base of the marine food web.

According to their results, published in the Nature journal 
Ecology and Evolution, there was a two to three-fold increase in the number of dead zooplankton at a distance of at least 1.2 kilomenters (about three-quarters of a mile) from the air gun after the blasts. That is much farther than previous reports of impacts out to only 10 meters or so (roughly 33 feet).

But as reported in 
Guardian Australia, two major U.S. oil and gas industry groups have been writing to regulators describing McCauley’s findings as “seriously flawed” while commissioning other unnamed experts who have also criticized the study.

McCauley, who has been researching the impacts of seismic surveys on marine life since the early 1990s, told Guardian Australia the criticisms of his research were a “whitewash.

”He told me: “You have to expect that some people will do their best to discredit [the study] so they can carry on as before. They will throw as much mud and confusion around to stall the process.”

Jayson Semmens, Associate Professor with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania and a co-author of the zooplankton study, defended the findings. He said while there was “no perfect experiment,” he was confident in the results.

Using sonar images, the study looked at the abundance of zooplankton after the air gun blasts and analyzed the organisms caught in nets, which revealed the increase in dead zooplankton.

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