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Seismic survey ship
The Oceanic Endeavour in the Port of Varna
Goal zero area team
Seismic surveys are aimed at research and mapping of geological formations under the seabed.

Seismic surveys give us a better picture of what the subsurface looks like, allowing us to minimise the number of exploration wells we have to drill.

Four Marine Mammal Observers are aboard the Oceanic Endeavour Right side

The MMO's onboard the Oceanic Endeavour

But we recognise that any operation we carry out – such as conducting surveys – can have an impact on the surrounding area. That is why we complete extensive environmental studies, and apply that knowledge in our plans before a seismic survey begins. We also engage with communities that may be affected. We aim to address their concerns and together work out how to best conduct a survey that minimises impact and maximises benefits. In some cases, this work could mean conducting surveys at certain times of the year or even suspending operations if wildlife is spotted in the area.

Scientific studies and technical reviews indicate that the potential for harm to various benthic (bottom dwelling) organisms, fish and marine mammals from exposure to acoustic energy from seismic sources is very low and only occurs when the animals are in close proximity (around two meters) to the seismic source.

Partnership with the Marine Mammal Observer Association (MMOA)

In the case of the Balkanide 3D seismic survey Shell has formed a partnership with the world renowned Marine Mammal Observes Association and adopted the Marine Mammal Observer Association’s (MMOA) Position Statements and best hiring guide for contracting suitably qualified Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) and Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) Operators.

This meant that during the tendering phase of the project Shell utilized the MMOA position statements and analysed CVs from multiple agencies and took preference in their selection by favouring evidence for:

  • Relevant academic qualifications and experience in marine mammal surveys/research demonstrating a professional interest in the role;
  • Candidates who demonstrate Continuous Professional Development (CPD);
  • Candidates associated and involved with the MMOA;
  • Candidates with Registered/Chartered status;
  • Previous Black Sea experience.

The commitment by the company was acknowledged by the MMOA in an official statement on their website.

MMO and PAM

To avoid any impact on Black Sea fauna, four (4) Marine Mammals Officers (MMOs) and Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) are stationed on board the seismic survey vessel to keep a continuous watch and ensure no marine mammals are in the vicinity of the seismic source and a “soft start” procedure is applied to allow marine mammals to move away before the seismic acquisition starts.

A marine mammal observer (MMO) is a professional in environmental consulting who specializes in whales and dolphins. When on board the seismic vessel, the MMO's job is two-fold: to spot sensitive wildlife species and to monitor adherence to the previously agreed upon guidelines, which in some cases may include complete halt of operations should the MMO decide it is necessary.

Spotting, and identifying, animals involves long hours of visual surveys. Detecting cetaceans with hydrophones is known as Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM), and this is an increasingly common technique used in addition to visual surveys, mostly during the night when visual access is impared. Ensuring adherence to guidelines requires a thorough knowledge of the regulations, understanding of the operations and the ability to communicate effectively with the crew.

The “soft start” procedure, endorsed by both the seismic team and the professional MMOs and PAM operators on board, is a safe way to protect marine mammals by reducing the power of the compressed air device, thus warning the mammals about the operations and allowing them to move away safely before the seismic acquisition commences.

Protecting the Nature

The survey parameters have been designed to avoid any overlap between the seismic survey areas and the environmentally protected zones – nationally designated protected areas or Natura 2000 protected sites.

That is why Shell will not conduct seismic surveys nor in or near the areas, included in Natura 2000 (as seen on the map below).

The Balkanide 3D Seismic Area

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