As oil and gas companies extend their tentacles into the oceans, exploring the depths for untapped hoards of fossil fuel, many marine creatures have come under lethal threat. The Environmental Impact Assessment of the Jubilee field predicted minor residual impacts on marine mammals and proposed some measures to counter the effect. The situation at hand far exceeds the predictions of the impact assessment. The recent surge in the death of marine mammals, particularly whales is overwhelming and hence requires urgent attention to avoid any impending effect on livelihoods and food security in the West African coast.
Whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing for life's most basic functions, such as orientation and communication. They rely on sound to navigate and to find food, friends and mating partners. When a sound, thousands of times more powerful than a jet engine fills their ears, the results is fatal. This is the reality that whales and other marine mammals in the Gulf of Guinea are facing because of airguns used for oil and gas exploration. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York City-based non-profit international environmental advocacy group, there is no question that sonar injures and kills whales. The case of oil and gas exploration leading to overwhelming whale deaths is not endemic to the Gulf of Guinea. Similar cases have occurred in the Canary Islands, Greece, Madeira, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and other sites around the globe. Like their counterparts in many countries that have experienced this negative phenomenon, the Ghanaian government agencies responsible for curtailing this ongoing disaster has claimed there are no empirical basis to establish a link between the death of the whales and oil production.
It has become obvious that the mitigation measures proposed by the impact assessment can no longer be relied upon. There is therefore the urgent need for stakeholders to go back to the drawing board in order to formulate better guidelines. Of course, it is impossible to wake up to this reality with the current posture of the agencies responsible for curtailing this disaster. The government agency must come out of this insincere ignorance and join the growing international consensus that ocean noise presents a significant threat to marine mammals and other marine species.
Notwithstanding the negative press the oil and gas industry has made on countless occasions; it is one industry that has spearheaded breakthroughs in technology and research. It has created wealth in many countries and improved the lives of many, especially in those nations where the oil and gas wealth is well managed. Talk about research and technology; it is one industry that invests billions of dollars in that area. Nevertheless the industry has to take responsibility for the harm being caused to the environment, it is a fact that some of these environmental issues are inevitable but the industry has to do its best to manage and bring down these disasters to a minimum. One fact worth noting is that these companies are also interested in the welfare of the nations in which they operate
There are numerous relevant international regulations that relate to the growing international consensus that ocean noise presents a significant threat to marine mammals and other marine species and must be addressed. The 1982 United Nations convention of the law of the sea establishes a globally recognized regime dealing with all matters relating to the use of the oceans and seas and their resources. The UNCLOS assigns the fundamental obligation and responsibility for protecting and preserving the marine environment to States, and requires them to adopt and enforce national laws and international standards to prevent, reduce and control ocean pollution from any source. The UNCLOS defines Pollution to include harmful energy, and thus encompasses noise pollution within its mandates.
Also in November 2004, the IUCN-World Conservation Union adopted a comprehensive resolution calling for action by states to reduce the impacts of ocean noise on marine life, which was adopted by consensus. The IUCN is the world’s leading body for conservation policy, consisting of over 70 national governments and more than 400 non-governmental organizations, and the decisions it takes at its quadrennial meetings set the global agenda for conservation over the next four years. The 2004 Resolution recognizes undersea noise as a form of pollution; calls on states to avoid the use of intense noise sources in the habitat of vulnerable species or where marine mammals and endangered species may be concentrated; and urges states to work through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to develop mechanisms for the control of this emergent problem.
Expects have found three main methods in comparative review of Marine mammals mitigation guidelines in oil and gas industry seismic surveys internationally. The three main methods currently used to mitigate the potential impacts on marine mammals during seismic surveys are:
(1) Implementation of operational procedures (e.g., ‘soft start’—where sound levels are gradually increased over time);
(2) Detection of animals close to airguns and implementation of real-time mitigation measures (e.g., shut-down),
(3) Time/area planning of surveys to avoid marine mammals. Detection of animals via real-time monitoring which is not a mitigation measure per se, but an essential component of marine mammal mitigation during seismic surveys (Weir and Dolman 2007).
Many mitigating guidelines propose stringent procedures within sensitive areas and suggest planning surveys to avoid sensitive times/areas. In practical terms, regulatory approaches in line with oil and gas industry procedures may include complete closure of some areas, seasonal restrictions on operations, or limiting operations to daylight hours with visibility suitable for spotting marine mammals. In addition, the services of professional marine mammal specialists may be required and passive acoustic monitoring techniques may be needed to replace what is currently in use (Weir and Dolman 2007).
Brazil is a typical example among many regions where seismic survey closed seasons is clearly deﬁned and implemented. Prohibited areas exist for breeding (July–November) and nesting areas for marine turtles (October–February). Some areas are permanently closed due to their highly sensitive nature. This is reported in Brazilian Environmental Licensing Guide.
In proffering a realistic antidote to the deaths of the marine mammals the Fisheries Commission, Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies should join the growing international consensus that ocean noise presents a significant threat to marine mammals and other marine species and hence accept that there are enough evidence to the fact that the surge in whale deaths in Ghanaian waters is as a result of oil and gas exploration. This is a sine qua non to any attempt of mitigation.
Spence, J. 2007. A Summary of Existing and Future Potential Treatments for Reducing Underwater Sounds from Oil and Gas Industry Activities. Proceedings OCEANS 2007 MTS/IEEE Vancouver Conference & Exhibition, 2–4 October 2007.
Streever, Bill. 2007. Green Seduction: Money, Business, and the Environment. Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 210pp.
Weir, C.R. and Dolman, S. J. 2007. Comparative Review of the Regional Marine Mammal Mitigation Guidelines Implemented during Industrial Seismic Surveys, and Guidance towards a Worldwide Standard. Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy 10: 1–27.