The objective of this paper is to demonstrate how recent technological developments in remote sensing, surveillance, and associated computing capabilities are changing the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) approach. Specifically, these developments include high-resolution, multi-spectral satellite imagery and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) derived digital surface and terrain modelling, as well as advanced software platforms used in their analysis. Building on these technological developments, a new approach to ESIA studies is emerging – Imagery-Based Analysis and Assessment (IBAA).

The IBAA approach aims to efficiently and accurately classify environmental and social sensitivities, quantify anticipated impacts from project activities and assist in the development of mitigation measures all while reducing the amount of time needed in the field to undertake baseline surveys. This is achieved through a methodology that involves semi-automated land cover and habitat classification, spectral manipulation, object-oriented analysis and valuation calculations.

A large onshore oil field development project in Ethiopia will serve as a case study for this paper to illustrate the technical and commercial benefits of the IBAA approach. Specifically, the case study will show how imagery-based analysis allows for: i) the generation of a more robust, thorough and defensible environmental and social baseline, ii) an efficient and cost-effective classification of social and environmental sensitivities across large geographic areas, and iii) more targeted and comprehensive analysis of risk.

This paper will culminate in the proposal of new industry best practice for utilizing IBAA methods to improve HSSE/SR performance and to identify, manage and mitigate non-technical risks throughout the project lifecycle.

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