Consequences of seismic shooting for larva and fry

3.6.1 Consequences of seismic shooting for larva and fry 

Seismic shooting in itself is not a completely harmless activity either. Sound is an important way of communicating for many fish species when it comes to feeding, survival and reproduction. A seismic search at sea uses an air canon field with many air canons to send low frequency sound waves towards the sea bottom in order to search for oil and gas. The frequency of these sound waves overlaps with the frequency area where fish hear well. Adult and half adult fish have the ability to swim away from these sources of sound, whereas larva and fry do not possess the same ability. It is in the Svalbard zone and in many of the areas in both the South-East and the Northern Barents Sea where the fish population have their breeding places. This combination is problematic as research on spawning fish under the pressure of enduring seismic testing has stopped the spawning, and the larvae that experience these sound waves have either died momentarily or developed damages to their hearing, kidneys, hearts and swimming organs. Fry responded with losing their balance and immediately turned over and swam on their back or side after being exposed to the sound waves (Havforskningsinstituttet 2009). 

3.7 Concerns from the Norwegian Environmental Movement

In an open hearing written by the Norwegian environmentalist organizations Bellona, Fremtiden i våre hender (The Future in our Hands), Greenpeace, Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth), Naturvernforbundet (Nature Conservation Foundation) and SABIMA (Cooperation council for biodiversity) to the opening of The South-East Barents Sea their main concerns were the following: 

  1. Produced Water: In 2010 131 millions m3 of produced water was released from the Norwegian Shelf, and 129 millions m3 the next year. The concern comes when larvae and fry are exposed to high concentrations of production water as this has shown reduced weight and increased mortality in cod. There are still research holes on the effects of other fish besides cod, and on plant and zooplankton which is the nutrition for fry. This falls into the category of long term effects of the oil industry’s presence in the South-East Barents Sea and more research on produced water is desirable for a perspective where the oil industry is to coexist with the fishing industry. 
  2. Soot: Soot, or Black Carbon, will be a result of oil activity in the South-East Barents Sea, as the recommendation report could not exclude this factor from happening in the South-East Barents Sea. When Black Carbon is released on white snow and ice, it reduces the ability to reflect sunlight, the same way open melted water reflects less than white surfaces, which leads to an increased effect of global warming in the Arctic. (UNEP BC report, Twenty-sixth session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, February, 2011)
  3. Oil spill preparedness: Long distances to reach adequate equipment and the possibility for ice in the northern areas of the consequence investigated area makes oil spill recovery very challenging. In addition the weather conditions in the Barents Sea are known to be fundamentally harsher than areas at sea further south where there is oil business off shore. The low temperatures and the bad light conditions, among ice and heavy fog and very rapid weather changes all exemplifies how there are a multitude of challenges to overcome in order to have a fully operative oil spill recovery system available. It is further necessary to state that despite efforts and initiative from both science and the oil industry, there is currently no effective way of removing oil from ice covered waters. There are also the limitations of oil spill preparedness so close to the Ice Edge, as for the rest of the South- East Barents Sea. If an oil leakage were to occur under water on the sea bottom, the oil would have the opportunity to contaminate unhindered vast areas under the ice, as there is no existing strategy on how to retrieve the oil.
  4. Weather: The waves in the planned areas reaches between 13,9 and 15,6 meters towards 17 meters in the Barents Sea North (Klif 2013). These are significant heights when planning how to retrieve spilled oil. In 2008 there was an oil spill on Statfjord A, where 4400 cubic crude oil leaked out in the North Sea (Sintef 2008). This stands as an example that the existing oil spill recovery methods are not adequate when the waves are above 2,5 meters, as it was in the case of the Statfjord A accident. 
  5. Significant gaps in the oil spill preparedness: The Ministry of Climate and Pollution brought attention to how there is a limited availability to oil spill preparedness equipment both close to the shore, off shore and near the variable Ice Edge (DFN 2013). The Ministry points to factors as how the permanent ice and winter half year of darkness will challenge oil spill recovery attempts further from hard, to at times make it impossible. The Directorate for Nature Conserves argues that even though equipment might come in the future, there is always the possibility that the equipment might not work optimally, which gives the oil an opportunity to contaminate vulnerable areas (NRK 2008). The Norwegian Oil Spill Association has acknowledged the need for better oil spill recovery equipment on the Norwegian shelf. However, in the impact assessment on oil spill preparedness from the Parliament it is stated that the oil spill preparedness shall be equally good all year around (St.meld. 38 2003). As this can not be the case of the South-East Barents Sea consequence area, the environmental organizations do not consider it responsible to have petroleum activity in these areas. 
  6. Marine nature resources: The Climate and Pollution Directorate point to the data on how the sea bed will be affected is based upon knowledge on the sea bottom done by Russian Scientist in the 1930s, and that species are likely to have changed in numbers and bio mass since then (Klif 2013). In 2006 a new study of the marine sea bottom was started by Mareano, which is a branch from the Sea Research Institute, but this new study is not estimated to be finished before 2020 (HI 2007). The Climate and Pollution Directorate recommends that a precautionary approach is used when considering the South-East Barents Sea, and at least makes sure that no license allocations are made to the oil companies, before the Mareano report is finalized so marine habitat can be preserved and important natural values will be saved. 
  7. Consequences of marine noise: The environmental organizations do not find that the impact of increased seismic activity has been evaluated sufficiently. The Impact Assessment report for the South-East Barents Sea states in chapter 4.5 under other ‘environmental consequences’ that there will be negative consequences for the red listed Fin Whale and Baleen Whale. The consultancy firm Rambøll proposes that seismic free zone in areas where whales with calves are observed can be arranged, to stop the damages both physiologically and behaviour-wise on the animals. Similar seismic free zones should be drawn up in all the areas with large sea mammals in the South-East Barents Sea (Rambøl 2007). This arrangement includes stopping seismic activity when large sea mammals move into the seismic free zones that must be drawn up around the installations, in order to be effective to prevent the population of for example fin whales to further decrease.