Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel

Seismic surveys monitoring and mitigation

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 feeding areas.

Responsible Practices for Seismic Surveys

Building on IUCN’s scientific research and conservation practice and on the 10+ years’ experience of the WGWAP, in 2016 IUCN released a detailed manual on Effective planning strategies for managing environmental risk associated with geophysical and other imaging surveys: A resource guide for managers. It was developed by the WGWAP experts and offers a structure evaluation and decision-making framework for business, regulators, and scientists. The publication also contains a separate Annex of resources which is an EndNote library available for download in zip format here (other formats available upon request from Anete Berzina, IUCN). 

The basic elements, structure, and sequence of this framework are adapted from a scientific paper Responsible Practices for Minimizing and Monitoring Environmental Impacts of Marine Seismic Surveys with an Emphasis on Marine Mammals. The paper was published in the journal Aquatic Mammals in 2013 and co-written by the WGWAP and Sakhalin Energy experts, building on the work conducted between 2006-2012.

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.

Planning for the Sakhalin Energy's 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 that was finally adopted by Sakhalin Energy was the result of five Task Force meetings and reviews and discussions at five WGWAP meetings. This was considered one of the most rigorous Monitoring and Mitigation Plans focused on whale conservation that had been developed for a seismic survey anywhere in the world at the time.

Preparations for Sakhalin Energy's 2015 Piltun-Astokh 4D seismic survey were also prolonged and were challenging given that other companies were planning seismic surveys in nearby areas in the same open-water season. A series of Noise Task Force meetings culminated in an agreed 2015 Monitoring and Mitigation Plan in November 2014, which was largely endorsed by the Panel but with recommended modifications in December 2014. In May 2015, shortly before the survey was to begin, the WGWAP issued a statement of concern to which Sakhalin Energy responded. The Company proceeded with its seismic survey in July 2015, having modified its Monitoring and Mitigation Plan to address the specific circumstances (notably the activities of other companies) and in response to some of the Panel's 2014 recommendations and statement of concern. 

IUCN’s Independent Observer

As required by the Monitoring and Mitigation Plan, an Independent Observer, contracted by IUCN, was present in the field, to observe the implementation of the 2010, 2015 and 2018 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, 2015 and 2018 to provide advice to the Company, as deemed necessary during the survey, for example, if circumstances required the Company to consider modifying its Monitoring and Mitigation Plan.

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