Sound and marine life

SoundMarineLife_Topics_Text.jpgThe international oil & gas industry is committed to conducting operations around the world in a safe and environmentally protective manner. Until recently, relatively little was known about the impact of sound generated by offshore exploration on marine life. To address specific questions raised by regulators, leading scientists and oil & gas companies themselves, the industry embarked on a multi-million dollar research programme. 

Bringing together up to 14 oil & gas companies and industry associations in a specially funded Joint Industry Programme (JIP), OGP has managed the specially funded Sound and Marine Life JIP since 2006. The Programme aims to better characterise the sounds the upstream oil & gas industry produce; to determine the potential impacts of these sounds on marine life and thereby to improve risk assessments and mitigation.

As findings become available, the Programme is committed to sharing results with other oil & gas operators, regulators and the public. The aim: to ensure all stakeholders benefit from a better understanding of the potential risks of oil & gas operations on marine life.

Study areas

To date, the Programme has commissioned more than 50 research projects. These can be categorised into 5 main study areas:

  • The characteristics of sound from oil & gas operations and how those sounds spread
  • Physical, physiological and hearing effects of those sounds on marine life
  • Behavioural reactions and biologically significant effects
  • Mitigation and monitoring
  • The most effective research tools

Case studies

One of the Programme’s early priorities was a detailed study to quantify sound generated by seismic exploration surveys that use air guns to release sound pulses in water as a way of assessing seabed formations below. The study in the Gulf of Mexico has provided, for the first time, a thorough understanding of the sounds produced by offshore exploration using seismic air guns.  

In parallel, another study investigated the hearing thresholds, ranges and sensitivities of large whales and Arctic seals.

The research has also brought about the development – and deployment – of a software package to help interpret sounds from marine mammals picked up by passive acoustic monitoring systems. This is already helping operators to avoid or reduce interaction with marine mammals during seismic surveys.