Offshore Energy 2013: “Minimizing environmental impacts of oil and gas operations”

The scientific community is trying to build on the lessons learnt both in terms of prevention and mitigation of consequences stemming from accidents such as the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill in the U.S. Gulf of 2010.

Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands last week featured the “Minimizing environmental impacts of oil and gas operations” session. During the session various marine environment issues were raised such as: the effectiveness of oil spill response methodologies, spatial planning, the role of operational management, environmental regulations and licensing, Arctic drilling ops, etc.

The speakers at the session were Bas Bolman, Programme Manager at IMARES, Tinka Murk, Professor Environmental Toxicology at Wageningen University, and Erik Huber, Business Development Director Industry Energy and Mining Royal HaskoningDHV.

When speaking about the challenges for the maritime sector to operate in the Arctic, Bolman said that spatial planning plays an important role when it comes to “where are we going to operate in the Arctic, and which spaces should we leave alone.”

“A licence to operate is not only a piece of paper with a signature of a government. It is also an informal licence; an informal licence from e.g. GreenPeace, and the world, that you are allowed to do that,” he added.

He said that aside to where, it is also important to focus on how things are done and to work with the nature.

Bolman suggested the industry should work more adaptively according to the specific ecosystem that it is operating in. Referring to an example from the dredging industry he said: “Regulations are there to protect the environment, but why should we have strict regulations when you have an ecosystem that is not sensitive at all to the activity?”

He also gave a reciprocal example: “What about sensitive ecosystems? Can we have a little bit stricter norms and regulations there?”

Future steps

As a means of taking things forwards Bolman proposed that “we start from the environment, we start from understanding the ecosystem and how it functions and then we take the next step. And we try to develop smart designs. Instead of fighting nature, we try to join nature and use its potential.

“And then, we involve the stakeholders in the early stage of operations and let them participate throughout the process. They get to think together with the maritime sector about how to design the operation.”

Arctic

This year, Wageningen UR members went to Svalbard to carry out research to prevent oil spills in the Arctic. In addition, ballast water systems were tested under arctic conditions. Moreover, the aim was to select certain species that are sensitive to effects of oil and gas operations.

They visited the Arctic itself with the aim to select certain species that are sensitive to effects of oil and gas operations.

“You don’t need to have fancy equipment to monitor your effects; you can also use nature itself.

So, what we’re trying to do here is find suitable species, shells, worms to do the monitoring for us,” Bolman said.

He also informed about a shellfish typical for the area which could be an interesting species to monitor the environment around oil and gas platforms.

Role of NGOs

During the Q&A part of the session we asked Bolman to tell us more about the informal approval operators need from the NGO’s. Furthermore, we inquired about the recommendations for getting that approval from organizations such as Greenpeace for example?

“In my opinion there are two types of NGOs. There are NGOs that are constructive, with one leg in the system, discussing various issues with the maritime sector. The other ones are like Greenpeace that don’t want to be in the dialogue, but instead want to be outside and let the world know what is going on in various parts of the world.

The constructive ones, can get involved in the design of a project and because of their involvement they can express their worries and concerns.”

According to Bolman, the constructive organizations can contribute to awarding of informal licenses by participation and involvement throughout different stages of project developments, by giving their expert input, for example, on protected species in specific ecosystems.

Oil spill response

The session continued with the presentation by professor Tinka Murk. She spoke of the Dutch participation in the C-IMAGE project, which studies the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

Murk’s research revealed some interesting interactions of dispersants and oil with plankton that may have compromised the effectiveness of the dispersants. Dispersants are a common tool used after oil spills to break up oil slicks on the water surface and increase the oil’s rate of biodegradation.

Her presentation included a live demonstration comparing the official dispersant Corexit 9500 and the new “Ecotech” absorbent.

Spatial planning

Erik Huber, Business Development Director of Industry Energy and Mining at Royal HaskoningDHV, focused on issues such as potential overlapping of spatial planning in the North Sea and how stakeholders can work together to benefit from the existing infrastructural potential and technological advancements.

According to Huber, additional burden is being placed on spatial planning as the oil and gas, shipping, offshore wind, fishing industries and environmentalists claim their piece of the cake.

“Cooperation, I think, is the way forward,” he said.

For example, depleted gas fields could be used for CO2 storage and as the industry moves further offshore artificial islands could be a solution for offshore wind industry and oil and gas players.

“Offshore oil and gas business has so far had a priority in spatial planning because of its economic importance and it wasn’t debated,” Huber said, adding that with the turn to greener practices, challenges from the renewables industry are about to come up thus paving the way for that priority to fade away.

Asked if there was a fear that the oil majors could go elsewhere if the North Sea is locked due to this priority shift and strict regulations, Huber replied that “oil majors take all these aspects into consideration, especially in terms of investments and regulations, but in general“, he admitted, “when these are too stringent investments decrease.”

Lost time

In conclusion, the speakers confirmed that considerable time has been lost in search for an adequate solution for oil spills, along with the assessment of the past incidents and mitigation of their consequences.

When asked to give their opinion on a potential oil spill in the Arctic, they agreed that during the Arctic winter, adequate oil spill response in the Arctic environment is nearly impossible.

Steps are being taken in the right direction when it comes to oil response in general, they continued. What is more, they voiced a need for a greater involvement of industry stakeholders in the research and project development for this to gain momentum.

Subsea World News Staff , October 24, 2013

 

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