Abstract

From late 2012 until mid-2014 an extensive seismic exploration programme was carried out offshore Uruguay, comprising the operation of 7 seismic vessels together with their supply and chase vessels, sometimes operating simultaneously, for the acquisition of approximately 38,500 Km2 of 3D seismic and 7,500 Km of 2D seismic. It is part of an early stage of exploration of the frontier basins of Uruguay, committed by international oil companies under production sharing agreements with the national oil company of Uruguay (ANCAP), or multi-client contracts signed between ANCAP and international geophysical companies. ANCAP's role was to supervise and facilitate the operations, and in particular, to set the rules for developing safe and sustainable operations in coordination with other national authorities.

This paper aims to review and evaluate the technologies, procedures and practices for health, safety and environmental management, put in force during the programme.

The exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Uruguay comprises around 142,000 Km2, from shelf shallow waters of the Rio de la Plata, to deep waters of the southern Atlantic where most of the seismic programme was concentrated. Although there is a fair general understanding of the physical, biological and anthropic media of the EEZ, data is scarce, with isolated and inhomogeneous efforts concentrated in a particular environmental media, species or locations. Most of the artisanal and industrial fisheries, and marine traffic, is developed near the coastal area of the EEZ, far from the exploration areas. Exploration of hydrocarbons is a non-traditional activity in Uruguay; therefore, apart from general legislation for the protection of marine environment and for safe and sustainable development of human activities, including international agreements for marine operations, there are no specific regulations regarding HSE for exploration operations.

A thoroughly review and identification of regulations was performed in anticipation of the programme, in order to determine the requirement of supplementary or more stringent rules, in addition to those adopted by the companies on a voluntary basis. A particular focus was given into those issues of higher concern, among local stakeholders and probably worldwide, associated with offshore seismic operations: the protection of marine mammals and other marine fauna, the relation and communication with stakeholders, the effect of sound on fishes and fisheries, and the social impact in terms of the involvement of local providers and human resources in the programme.

The results of this review are presented as standard safety and environmental performance indicators, including a set of lessons learned and recommendations for future offshore operations. This paper is the first assessment of HSE management and performance of exploration operations offshore Uruguay, and uses a comprehensive database from the international geophysical and oil companies involved in the seismic programme.

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