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Oil Industry Representative Misleads Public

Media release

Fossil Fuels Aotearoa Research Network (FFARN)

15 October 2017

Oil Industry Representative Misleads Public over Seismic Testing

Cameron Madgwick, CEO of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ) responded this week to claims by Greenpeace activist Mike Smith that seismic testing harmed marine mammals. Smith was reacting to news that Schumberger plans to explore almost 90,000 sq km of the Taranaki Basin, after seismic exploration of the East Coast Basin with its survey ship Amazon Warrior.

Madgwick, interviewed on Waatea Radio, said Smith had exaggerated the situation and ignored the ‘rigorous science’ and environmental compliance that sits behind seismic testing.

The underwater noise of ‘acoustic imaging surveying,’ Madgwick said, “isn’t at the volume and frequencies that various marine mammals will be impacted permanently by. There’s a lot of science that sits behind that…There’s minimal effects of this activity on the marine environment and on marine mammals.” Seismic surveying “was at the same volume and frequency as a whale click.”

Madgwick stated that survey ships had independent observers on board to look out for any marine mammals. They had “complete authority” to stop the seismic blasting if they saw mammals.

Otago University marine zoologist Professor Liz Slooten was asked by Waatea for her reaction to Madgwick’s statements.

“The comment about airguns being the same loudness as a sperm whale click. That’s just wrong.”

Dr Slooten has spent several decades tracking sperm whales off Kaikoura and other parts of the world. Research suggests that sperm whale sounds can be heard up to 20 or 30 kms, while airguns can be hear several hundred kilometres away. She sited research by Chris Clark of Cornell University, who found air guns caused a hundred thousand kilometre square to be awash with noise. “There’s really no comparison” between whale clicks and air gun blasts.

Regarding Madgwick’s claims that air guns had no impact on marine mammals, Dr Slooten said “There’s been very little research on this so far, but already there is evidence of impacts. The more mobile species like dolphins are seen in much lower numbers close to the seismic vessel when the air guns are going off than when they’re off.” Whales will leave the area, stop making noise (communicating), and even shelter behind rocks. Some come right to the surface to get away from the noise.

“So certainly there are clear indications that not only air gun noise but other noise that humans make in the ocean impacts marine mammals.”

And to argue that air guns are not a problem because they’re not at a frequency that will affect marine mammals “is just wrong. Seismic air guns cover a really wide frequency range and the high frequency part of air gun noise overlaps with the sounds of dolphins, and the low frequency component overlaps with the sounds made by whales.”

Regarding marine observers, Dr Slooten noted the industry itself was sceptical. A keynote speaker at the 2015 Advantage New Zealand Petroleum Summit, John Hughes of Norwood Resource, told the audience the probability of the marine mammal observers (MMOs) seeing dolphins and whales was very small and that they were mostly “window dressing.” “We all know MMOs are not effective,” Hughes said, partly because air guns are often used at night or in poor visibility when the observers are unlikely to see whales and dolphins.

Dr Slooten concluded “Unfortunately, our New Zealand legislation is such that you don’t need a proper environmental investigation until you get to the commercial phase. So the seismic survey basically gets approved; the exploratory drilling gets approved with very little research or environmental impact assessment.” --ENDS

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