Demonstrating an acceptable level of impact: an assessment of noise impacts to fishes from a seismic survey in an Australian Marine Park


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With a current Senate Inquiry into the impact of seismic testing on fisheries and the marine environment, the method for identifying and managing potential impacts from offshore seismic surveys is becoming increasingly important. This presentation is a case study of a particularly challenging impact assessment and approvals process for a 3D seismic survey in the Bonaparte Basin.

Paper Abstract

A key challenge of the environmental regulatory framework for offshore petroleum activities in Australia is the requirement to demonstrate acceptability, with the legislation placing the onus on petroleum titleholders to demonstrate that the impacts and risks posed by an activity will be of an acceptable level and reduced to as low as reasonably practicable. This paper presents a case study on the assessment of noise impacts to fishes for the Bethany 3D Marine Seismic Survey, which was acquired by Santos Ltd in mid-2018. The survey area was encompassed entirely by the Oceanic Shoals Marine Park, and also overlapped a significant proportion of the Timor Reef Fishery, a regionally important demersal scalefish fishery. The survey area overlapped a key ecological feature and a range of geomorphic features characterised by benthic habitats supporting demersal and benthic fish communities, including site-attached species. On this basis, the evaluation of impacts and risks required a multi-faceted approach, with seven key elements: (1) acoustic modelling; (2) application of sound exposure guidelines; (3) a quantitative risk assessment (benthic habitat predictive modelling and spatial analysis of site attached fish assemblages); (4) the definition of an acceptable level of impact; (5) a sound source verification process; (6) engagement with key stakeholders; and (7) an independent, expert peer review process. The outcomes of each of these steps were incorporated into the environment plan, and enabled the titleholder to demonstrate that, with adopted control measures in place, environmental impacts and risks from the seismic survey could be managed to an acceptable level.

This paper was presented at the 2019 APPEA Conference where it was awarded the Alan Prince award for Best Peer Reviewed Paper

Your Instructor

Joe Edgell, PESA
Joe Edgell, PESA

Joe graduated from the University of Southampton in 2009 with an MSc in Environmental Coastal Engineering. His working career spans 11 years as an environmental consultant delivering environmental approvals and supporting compliance for marine energy and resource projects in Europe, Australia and SE Asia. Since joining ERM as a Senior Environmental Consultant in Perth in 2012, Joe has worked on a wide range of projects with an increasing focus on the assessment of underwater noise impacts and development of environment plans (EPs) for oil and gas exploration, development and production activities.