In this article, the  Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (GCOOS-RA) highlights a joint oil and gas industry program that provides scientific research and funding on sound and marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Several GCOOS-RA members are partners of or funded by the program. Other GCOOS-RA members have received contracts for conducting relevant research in the Gulf. Read on for more details and to learn about funding opportunities!

Sound and Marine Life JIP – By the Numbers
  • Started in 2005
  • $31 million in research funded
  • Phase 3 started in 2014 with $18 million dedicated
  • 70+ Contracts for research studies or support activities
  • 13 Industry Partners

Introduction

As the Department of the Interior determines the next Five-Year Leasing Plan (2017 – 2022), new areas of oil and gas access are under considerable debate, including regions of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. While the sea is filled with a variety of natural and anthropogenic sounds, there is particular scrutiny on sound generated by seismic surveys. Seismic studies are vital to the industry in helping to best determine where exploration and production activities should occur. Seismic surveys are part of a suite of tools that help to define if an area is prospective for oil and gas and if there are locations that merit drilling.  As such, seismic surveys help define the number of wells required and limit exploration and production activity in the marine environment.   In the Gulf of Mexico, 2-D and 3-D seismic data has been collected for decades covering over a billion miles. A major program has been underway since 2005 and is helping the oil and gas industry better understand and mitigate the impacts of sound on marine life.

The Exploration and Production (E&P) Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Program (JIP) is an international consortium built of geophysical and oil and gas operators. The JIP was established in 2005 under the auspices of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) to identify and conduct a research program that improves the global understanding of the potential impact of E&P sound on marine life by providing financial support for independent researchers to study important global issues related to marine sound.

The Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://www.soundandmarinelife.org) funds research and disseminates scientific findings to educate global stakeholders (e.g. communities, regulators, and non-governmental organizations) on the effects of sound generated by oil and gas exploration and production activity on marine life. The members involved firmly believe that effective regulatory policy must build from previous knowledge[1] stem from good, independent science. Having an increased understanding of the effect of sound generated by exploration and production activity on marine life helps governments make regulatory decisions based on sound science and the industry develop effective mitigation strategies. The JIP is one mechanism to support this much-needed science. The research sponsored covers an international and broad range of oil and gas activity and sound impacts on marine mammals, sea turtles, and fisheries. Furthermore, the research resulting from the JIP is used to promote effective academic and non-governmental organization (NGO) partnerships to build common scientific understanding on this issue.

Since 2005, the program has awarded more than 70 contracts for research and or associated support activities totaling $31 million. The funded research, including reports and peer-reviewed literature, is used to inform industry conducting risk assessments and provides data broadly available to stakeholders interested in marine sound and marine life. The three objectives of the JIP are to:

  • Identify and commission a research program that improves the understanding of potential impact of E&P sound on marine life,
  • Educate stakeholders to ensure that regulations are proportionate and built on the best independent science, and
  • Promote effective academic and NGO partnerships to build common scientific understanding.

Program Members

The JIP is built on collaboration and includes a diverse membership. It is comprised of a number of international oil and gas operators and trade organizations that have engaged world-leading scientists to help guide the research objectives and ensure all research produced conforms to the highest peer-reviewed standard. The JIP is informed by an advisory board of experts and contracts with leading scientists to conduct research. Industry members include: BHP Billiton, BG Group, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ENI, ExxonMobil, Santos, Shell, Statoil, Total, and Woodside. The International Association of Geophysical Contractors is also a member of the JIP. Many members of industry are also affiliated with the GCOOS-RA, including BP, Chevron, Marathon Oil, and Shell.

To ensure research credibility, the JIP appointed an external advisory panel comprised of recognized experts (regulators, academics, NGOs, and scientists) from outside the oil and gas industry to provide regular review of the program’s direction and scope of work.

Many GCOOS-RA partners and Gulf of Mexico stakeholders have been awarded JIP contracts, including: Fairfield Industries (Sugar Land, TX), University of Southern Mississippi, University of Lafayette, University of New Orleans, Florida State University, Mote Marine Laboratory, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The JIP Research Areas, Publications, and Funding Process

Major research areas of JIP include:

–       Sound source characterization and propagation

–       Physical and physiological effects and hearing

–       Behavioral reactions and biological significant effects

–       Mitigation and monitoring

–       Research tools

The five areas of research are complementary and designed to allow the JIP to fully understand potential effects associated with underwater sound from E&P activities. The categories move progressively from those designed to understand how sound travels underwater, to the possible effects of sound on the physical and behavioral aspects of marine life, and finally on how sound can be controlled and potential impacts mitigated.

The fifth area, research tool development, is designed to keep the JIP and research partners at the cutting edge of science by developing new and effective marine sound monitoring tools. Since 2006, tools developed with JIP funding and integrated into the marine sound and marine life community include:

–       Development of transfer functions for the population consequences of acoustic disturbance model (PCAD). The PCAD was developed with the U.S. National Academies of Science National Resource Council to evaluate change in marine life behavior.

–       Marine mammal tags. Advanced tag technology is essential in allowing the industry to understand marine life behavior, habitat use, migration patterns, and reactions.

–       Density estimate for cetaceans from acoustic fixed sensors (DECAF). Fixed installation PAM (passive acoustic monitoring) systems monitor marine mammals over a given area for extended periods (years to decades). When these data are analyzed in real-time, decisions can be made during ongoing E&P operations and potentially reduce environmental risk.

–       PAMGuard. Passive acoustic monitoring helps detection by picking up the distinctive vocalizations that marine life produce. The JIP developed PAMGuard, a software system for detecting the presence of marine mammals near seismic operations, which allows operators to shut down to prevent any marine life overexposure to sound. The work of the JIP has ensured that this state-of-the-art system has virtually replaced all previous animal detection software.

In addition to the technology, the JIP has funded a number of literature reviews and model studies to better understand the state-of-the-science in the international community, better focus its abilities to localize and classify different species, understand behavioral versus physical responses, and aid the oil and gas industry in being able to track and effectively mitigate operational activities. For a full list of studies and associated study details, please visit http://www.soundandmarinelife.org/innovation.aspx.

In all funded research, the JIP is committed to scientific objectivity through an independent peer review process. Placing peer-reviewed publications in academically recognized journals ensure the quality assurance of the output of both the JIP and its partners. The JIP is committed transparency in the scientific process and maintaining a rigorous review ensures the work reaches the widest possible scientific audience.

The full library of project reports and peer-reviewed publications can be found on the JIP Sound and Marine Life website at http://www.soundandmarinelife.org/library/project-reports.aspx.

Next Steps and Funding Opportunities

Support is usually given in the form of contracts, not grants. Contracts ensure that projects supported will focus on an agreed topic and the results will be made available to the scientific and regulatory communities, as well as the public on an agreed schedule.

The JIP is currently in Phase 3 of the funding cycle. The request for proposals (RFPs) process has started with more to come in 2015.

The JIP recognizes that there may be ideas where content falls outside of scope for these RFPs. Therefore, while unsolicited proposals are not encouraged, the JIP will consider Unsolicited Pre-Proposals that offer new, novel and breakthrough approaches to addressing key subjects. A small component of the overall program budget remains un-allocated to account for this research.

JIP policies require recipients to submit their reports publically, and to seek publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals, to ensure maximum program transparency and utility to the scientific and regulatory communities.

Proposals must incorporate the following policies into their submittals.

  • Policy on review, publication, and intellectual properties
  • Policy on the use of live animals in experiments
  • Policy on health, safety, and environmental management

Those organizations submitting proposals should refer to the outline contract. This sets out the terms and conditions under which any contract will be carried out under the management of the IOGP. In particular, attention is drawn to the specific term relating to management of health, safety, environment, and security aspects of a contract. All IOGP contracts have such a section, but the specific wording that will appear in this section depends on the type of activity (desk-top study, field work, etc.) to be conducted.

More information on the RFP response format, open/current RFPs, and research topics of interest can be found at: http://www.soundandmarinelife.org/funding.aspx. All proposals should be sent electronically to info@soundandmarinelife.org.

The JIP Sound and Marine Life Website

The JIP has just revised its website making it more interactive and visual to help better educate the marine life community and invested stakeholders. The new website provides background information on marine sound (natural and man-made) in the ocean, how sound impacts marine life, and delves into the science, research, and collaborations in the JIP itself. Visit the informative website at http://www.soundandmarinelife.org/.

Contact

For more information about the Sound and Marine Life JIP or funding opportunities, please contact info@soundandmarinelife.org.

 

[1] Current knowledge on the impacts of different sound sources on marine mammals can be found in the following reports:

  1. Review of existing data on underwater sound sources produced by the O&G industry. Issue 1. http://www.soundandmarinelife.org/library/project-reports.aspx
  2. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service. March 4, 2014. Federal Register Notice (Vol. 79, No. 42) http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-03-04/pdf/2014-04770.pdf
  3. Canadian Sciences Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) on behalf of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2008. Research Document – 2008/087. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/publications/resdocs-docrech/2008/2008_087-eng/htm
  4. Review of Scientific Information on Impacts of Seismic Sound on Fish, Invertebrates, Marine Turtles, and Marine Mammals. 2004. DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Habitat Status Report 2004/002.
  5. Science for Environment, Policy, Future Brief: Underwater Noise. European Commission: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/FB7.pdf
  6. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Appendix J, Atlantic G&G PEIS, http://www.boem.gov/boem-2014-001-v3/
  7. U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309094496
Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://www.soundandmarinelife.org)

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://www.soundandmarinelife.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sea turtles preparing to nest on a beach. Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://www.soundandmarinelife.org)

Sea turtles preparing to nest on a beach. Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://www.soundandmarinelife.org)

Whales feeding and fluking near and oil and gas platform. This pictures are from the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme’s (JIP) “Behavioural Response of Australian Humpback whales to Seismic Surveys”.Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (www.marinesound.org)

Tagged elephant seal. The tag helps scientists determine where the seal is traveling and how often he or she spends in and out of the water. Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (www.marinesound.org)Surveys”.Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (www.marinesound.org)

 

 

 

 

 

Whales feeding and fluking near and oil and gas platform. This pictures are from the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme’s (JIP) “Behavioural Response of Australian Humpback whales to Seismic Surveys”.Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://www.soundandmarinelife.org)

Whales feeding and fluking near and oil and gas platform. This pictures are from the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme’s (JIP) “Behavioural Response of Australian Humpback whales to Seismic Surveys”.Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://www.soundandmarinelife.org)

breach whale

Humpback breaching. Credit: IOGP E&P Sound and Marine Life JIP (http://soundandmarinelife.org)