Esso/Shell were awarded 4 exploration blocks in June 1993 in the North Irish Sea. This is an environmentally sensitive, nearshore area where several environmental groups were opposed to exploration taking place. The area is of ecological importance with a diverse wildlife and supports several hundred thousand migrating birds during the winter. Commercial fishing is also of importance to the local communities. An added complexity is that the area is adjacent to three separate authorities, eg. Scotland, England and the Isle of Man.
Our challenge and that of our contractors was to demonstrate that we could operate safely and in an environmentally sound fashion. A project manager was appointed to oversee all aspects of the Exploration programme.
An environmental review was carried out prior to licence award and an environmental assessment prior to the seismic operation. All environmental sensitivities, eg. birds, fish and sea mammals etc. were assessed and all potential sources of inputs/disturbances from the seismic operation were reviewed.
In order to understand local concerns and communicate our plans in an area not familiar with oil exploration an extensive communication programme was also undertaken.
The next step was to develop ways in which to mitigate the potential impact on the environment and local marine users. This was done by working with the local authorities, fishing and environmental groups and the seismic contractor to establish acceptable operating practices. Procedures were then incorporated into the seismic contractors plan. The key sensitivites in the area are commercial fishing, seabirds and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) who have a Gumnery Range in the area, Some examples of procedures adopted to protect these features were slow start-up of airguns, the use of an onboard bird/mammal observer, the use of local fisning iiaison skippers and local chaseboat, reduction of exhaust smoke emissions, distribution of survey area maps to key people, and a safety review of MOD range operations and procedures.
At the start of the survey a safety/environmental review meeting was held with the seismic crew on board the survey vessel to increase their knowledge of the area and gain their commitment to the operational procedures established.
The survey took 80 days to complete and finished without significant incident. The procedures put in place were practical, and cost effective and ultimately successful considering the pressures on operators in nearshore sensitive areas.