Whale of a problem faces industry as sound effect concerns continue

THE Western Australian oil and gas industry continues to operate within stringent rules and regulations concerning exploration activities.

However, the environmental impact of offshore oil and gas exploration remains a prickly issue, particularly where seismic surveys and the impact on whales and other marine mammals is concerned.

This has meant the timing of seismic surveys is restricted to windows of opportunity based around the seasonal migration cycles of cetaceans and other marine life.

While a number of surveys have been conducted off the WA coast in conjunction with industry, concern remains that the sound waves used in seismic surveys adversely affects marine mammals.

Roc Oil Ltd conducted several such surveys off the WA coast in 2002 to gather environmental information regarding the interaction between seismic operations and migrating humpback whales.

Curtin University Centre for Marine Science and Technology has also been involved in other studies.

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association executive director Barry Jones said that “ignorance and myth” posed a serious threat to good marine environmental management on three fronts.

The first was that “a lack of good data and easily accessible facts” meant “unfounded concerns” were raised in the communities that the industry was seeking to work in.

Mr Jones said these concerns caused delays, costs and unnecessary antagonism.

He also said best practice environmental management meant continuous improvement in scientific knowledge.

“Third, it has been clearly demonstrated in a number of jurisdictions in recent month that public policy makers do not understand the regulatory processes that are already in place to manage industry operations,” Mr Jones said.

APPEA has released two publications aimed at influencing and educating the public and key decision makers on the topic.

The first document, Search - Australian Whales and Dolphins, is a free interactive CD with information and images aimed at involving communities in tracking the movement of marine mammals found off the coast of Australia.

The information gathered will contribute to guidelines for oil and gas explorers to conduct seismic drilling.

The second document is focused on informing political decision makers about seismic operations, regulatory processes and the research work the industry is undertaking.

“The oil and gas industry has carefully studied the use of sound waves as an exploration tool and their effect on marine species,” Mr Jones said.

“As a result of this research, the industry believes that seismic activities can be managed with minimal impact on the environment.

“The difficulty is in communicating our knowledge of this extremely complex issue to government decision makers and the community.”

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