«1. Introduction 1 1.1 Application 1 2. Definitions 2 3. Part 1: Marine seismic surveys in New Zealand continental waters 6 3.1 Notification 6 3.2 ...»
Vertical seismic profiling (VSP) is a form of marine seismic surveying used for correlation of well data with conventional surface seismic data, whereby a receiver (hydrophone or clamped geophone) is progressively positioned at a succession of depths in a borehole, and records a series of sound waves emanating from an acoustic source at a fixed point at the surface near the borehole. VSP surveying differs from check-shot surveying in that a VSP survey involves a large number of depth points of the order of 20 metres apart, whereas a check-shot survey involves a smaller number of depth positions of the order of 100 metres apart.
Walkaway vertical seismic profiling (Walkaway VSP) is similar to a standard VSP, but uses a moving acoustic source at the surface.
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3. Part 1: Marine seismic surveys in new Zealand continental waters This section details the common requirements applicable to all marine seismic survey operations recognised in New Zealand continental waters as being subject to the Code.
Level 1 surveys (427 cubic inches) primarily include large-scale geophysical investigations that would routinely be employed in oil and gas exploration activities with dedicated marine seismic survey vessels, but may also apply to other studies using high-power acoustic sources. This level features the most stringent requirements for marine mammal protection, and is the main focus of the Code.
Level 2 (151–426 cubic inches) provides for lower scale seismic investigations often associated with scientific research. As these survey programmes are normally conducted from smaller, sometimes multi-mode platforms using moderate power seismic sources or smaller seismic source arrays, the risks to marine mammals are decreased. Therefore the mitigation procedures are reduced accordingly.
Level 3 surveys (150 cubic inches) include all other small scale seismic survey technologies, and are considered to be of such low impact and risk—with nominal noise levels lower than commercial shipping—that they are not subject to the provisions of the Code.
Borehole seismic surveying (also referred to as vertical seismic profiling) is a specific survey activity related to offshore oil and gas well-bore investigations. Such operations are by necessity limited to a small geographic area and may be conducted from static platforms. Borehole seismic surveys may be determined to be within any of the above levels according to the acoustic source power employed.
In addition to the common provisions detailed in this section, further specific measures related to each specific level are outlined in the relevant sections in Part 2.
3.1 Notification No person may carry out a marine seismic survey from a vessel in New Zealand continental waters, except a Level 3 survey as identified above, unless he or she has, at the earliest opportunity but not less than three months before commencing the survey, notified the Director-General in writing1 that such a survey is being planned. Notification does not require provision of all required information; it may simply be to indicate potential intent to the Director-General in order to initiate the communication process. The proponents may meet with relevant departmental staff to discuss aspects of survey planning, and are encouraged to seek advice on possible mitigation options at an early stage.
In the event of exceptional circumstances or an opportunistic survey arising within the three-month notification period, the proponent will notify the Director-General at the earliest opportunity but not less than two weeks before commencing the survey. The
notification will be supported by:
• Evidence, to the satisfaction of the Director-General, of the exceptional or opportunistic nature of the survey, and
• A written Marine Mammal Impact Assessment (MMIA).
1 Can include email notification.
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3.2 Pre-survey planning and the MMIA process The fundamental component of the planning process for Level 1 and 2 surveys is the preparation of the MMIA, which must be made available to any personnel involved in observational capacities. Further specific details can be found in Appendix 1 to guide this process.
Particular attention needs to be given to minimising effects where surveys are planned in any of the Areas of Ecological Importance (which includes the marine mammal sanctuaries) as detailed in Schedule 1. Under normal circumstances marine seismic surveys will not be planned in any sensitive, ecologically important areas or during key biological periods where Species of Concern are likely to be breeding, calving, resting, feeding or migrating, or where risks are particularly evident such as in confined waters (for example, embayments or channels). However, where conducting surveys in such areas and seasons is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Director-General to be necessary and unavoidable, further measures2 may be required to minimise potential impacts. In these instances, proponents will seek advice from the Director-General to develop and agree on mitigation strategies for implementation. This should lead to the development of an appropriate marine mammal mitigation plan for use by observers and crew to guide operations.
A core component of the planning process is for the exploration permit holder to determine the lowest practicable power levels for the acoustic source array that will achieve the geophysical objectives of the survey—and to limit operations to this maximum level.
While the Code is primarily concerned with protection of marine mammals, proponents are strongly encouraged to adopt whatever means are available to avoid or mitigate negative effects on other key species (such as turtles, penguins and seabirds) or key habitats identified in the planning stage as being potentially impacted.
Where Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) is incorporated as a mitigation tool in the survey methodology, pre-survey planning should include input from the lead PAM operator, where possible, to ensure appropriate system specifications. Technical details of the PAM system will be provided to the Director-General in conjunction with the MMIA, along with a general description of proposed system deployment. Further information related to PAM operations can be found in the Reference Document.
Proponents will work with the Department to develop and agree any necessary additional mitigation measures based on the risks identified and the advice of the Director-General, and incorporate them into the survey methodology. While there is no formal approval process resulting in a ‘consent’, in each case the Director-General will determine whether the MMIA is sufficient for the purposes of the Code.
2 Further measures may include, for example, additional observers or observation platforms, aerial observation, acoustic source power restrictions, deployment of static PAM equipment in sensitive areas, incorporation of other supplementary detection methods, or designing the survey so as to avoid trapping marine mammals in confined areas such as narrow, constricted seaways.
3.4 Training and experience requirements of observers
To be a trained observer (either MMO or PAM3), a person will have:
• Successfully completed the respective marine mammal observation course or PAM operator course recognised by the Director-General as being consistent with DOC standards, or
• Demonstrated all required competencies through an assessment process recognised by the Director-General as being consistent with DOC standards.
To be a qualified observer, in addition to the above a person will have:
• Logged a minimum of 12 weeks’ relevant sea-time engaged in marine seismic survey operations in New Zealand continental waters, either as an MMO or PAM operator under the supervision of an appropriately qualified observer.
It is important to ensure the independence of qualified observers engaged in Level 1 surveys. Therefore, seismic survey vessel crew cannot be considered as qualified observers irrespective of training or experience. However for Level 2 seismic survey vessels4, crew trained and experienced as outlined above may function as qualified observers for the purposes of the Code.
For the entire duration of the Code, PAM operators with 3 years’ professional experience5 and a minimum of 12 weeks’ relevant international sea-time may be engaged if no other suitable qualified observer is available.
Additional information related to the performance, standards and training of qualified observers, as well as the range of interim measures established to ensure a smooth transition into the new regime, can be found in the Reference Document.
3 To clarify, there can be no cross-over between MMO/PAM observer classes unless the relevant training and experience criteria have been met for each activity. A trained or qualified MMO cannot work as a PAM operator without the necessary training or experience, and vice versa.
4 Practical onboard limitations may exist on Level 2 surveys as smaller vessels are normally used with limited accommodation capacity for additional personnel.
5 Due to the relatively recent emergence of PAM technology, it may prove difficult to locate suitable operators with 3 years’ experience. In such circumstances, the proponent should contact the Director-General to discuss potential alternative options.
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3.5 Recording and reporting All sightings of marine mammals during the survey period, including any beyond the maximum mitigation zone boundaries or while in transit, will be recorded in a standardised format (see Appendix 2). A written trip report shall be submitted by the proponent to the Director-General at the earliest opportunity but no longer than 60 days after completion of the survey.
Recording and reporting of observations of other marine species are also encouraged— noting whether opportunistic or systematic (during required observations)—especially where stakeholders have identified particular sensitivities or interests.
In addition to the above summary report, the qualified observers will submit all raw datasheets directly to the Director-General, at the earliest opportunity but no longer than 14 days after completion of each deployment. Proprietary information provided to the Director-General through these reporting processes will be treated in confidence.
Only data on marine mammal detections will be made publicly available, primarily in summary form through updates to information resources for Areas of Ecological Importance, but potentially also for detailed analytical research.
The Director-General should be informed immediately if the qualified observers consider that higher numbers of cetaceans and/or Species of Concern than predicted in the MMIA are encountered at any time during the survey. In such instances where the DirectorGeneral determines that any additional measures are necessary, these will be implemented without delay. The Director-General should also be informed immediately about any instances of non-compliance with the Code.
The provisions outlined in this section are distinct from any reporting requirements that may apply under the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Regulations 2007. These must be undertaken separately, and submitted to New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals.
3.6 Marine Mammal Sanctuaries No person may carry out a marine seismic survey within a Marine Mammal Sanctuary (MMS) unless he or she has, at the earliest opportunity but not less than three months
before commencing the survey:
• Notified the Director-General in writing of his or her intention to carry it out
• Submitted a written environmental impact assessment, and subsequently
• Agreed to comply with any additional conditions, such as increasing the mitigation zones or number of qualified observers required, imposed by the Director-General for operating in a MMS.
3.7 Explosives No person can use explosives as an acoustic source in New Zealand continental waters.6 6 It should be noted that on occasion the NZ Defence Force is engaged in disposal of munitions, which may be scientifically monitored to derive seismic survey data. Since the primary focus is disposal of wastes, these activities are not covered by the provisions of the Code, but may be subject to other legislation.
3.8.4 Authority to shut down or delay start Any qualified observer on duty has the authority to delay the start of operations or shut down an active survey according to the provisions of the Code.
Where MMO are supported by PAM or other alternative technology operators during surveys, marine mammal detections by any means should initiate a process of dialogue between the qualified observers on duty at the time. This is to ensure that decisions potentially affecting survey operations are made in a robust and mutually supportive manner, based on the skills, experience, capability and professional judgement of the observers. However, mitigation action is not dependent on marine mammals being detected by PAM and confirmed by a MMO—either qualified observer has the authority to act independently in each instance, if necessary.
10 Undertaking work-related tasks, such as completing reporting requirements, while monitoring equipment is allowed during duty watch, but PAM operators must not be distracted by non-work activities such as listening to music or watching TV/DVDs etc.
3.8.5 Observer deployment The preference for operational deployment of observers is on the acoustic source vessel.
However, if there are critical operational constraints in positioning observation teams on the source vessel, they may be redeployed onto chase or receiver vessels providing that their ability to perform in their specific roles is not compromised. The qualified observers affected must be involved in any discussions in this regard and agree to any redeployment arrangements.