Like any proposed oil and gas activity to take place in the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore area, an Operator must obtain an authorization from the CNSOPB in order to commence operations. Completion of an environmental assessment (EA) does not grant authorization to conduct a seismic program – it is just one step in support of the application process.
The EA has to consider the entire seismic study area in detail. For multi-year seismic programs, the EA must be updated from time-to-time with addendum(s) as appropriate.
In addition to completing the EA, an Operator is required to complete and submit other documentation for review by the CNSOPB team before an authorization may be granted to commence a seismic program. This documentation is to be submitted along with an Operator’s application to conduct seismic work, which would include the specific details and exact area of the program to be carried out.
The additional documentation required in the application process may be classified into 5 categories, and includes some of the following:
- Safety Plan
- Bridging Documents
- Vessel Specifications
- Mobilization and Demobilization Plan
- Wildlife Monitoring Plan
- Spill Response Plan
- Local Benefits Plan
- Seismic Data Acquisition Plan
- Seismic Plotting Lines
- Financial Responsibility and Financial Resources Documents
As part of its review process, CNSOPB specialists will carry out audits and/or pre-authorization inspections of the Operator and their key contractors to verify regulatory compliance and to evaluate readiness of operations. This includes verification of the competency of personnel and equipment, including seismic, supply and support vessels.
Seismic program authorizations are not indefinite; they have expiry dates as deemed necessary and appropriate by the CNSOPB.
Seismic authorizations are typically valid for 6-12 months, and Operators must renew their authorization in order to be permitted to continue or recommence operations.
Seismic programs are typically carried out in the warmer months, May through November, as the prevailing weather conditions in the wintertime make the seismic data collection process inefficient. In the case of a multi-year application where activity ceases during the winter months, an authorization renewal would be required.
What happens after a seismic program is authorized?
Once an Operator receives authorization to commence operations, the CNSOPB carries out ongoing monitoring activities through review of weekly progress reports, Operator briefings, and safety and environmental protection audits and inspections, both offshore and onshore.
Strict mitigation and compliance requirements comprise wildlife monitoring, including marine mammal observers and visual and passive acoustic monitoring.
Effects of seismic underwater noise on marine life
The CNSOPB requires Operators to follow the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment. This Statement was developed in collaboration with government and academia nation-wide to specify the mitigation requirements that must be met during the planning and conduct of marine seismic surveys in order to minimize the impacts on life in the oceans.
It is important to note that these requirements are considered a minimum standard by the CNSOPB. For sensitive areas and species, additional mitigation measures can be required, above and beyond what is outlined in the Statement, such as enhanced mitigation measures for species at risk.
To review examples of such mitigation efforts, please visit the CNSOPB public registry for strategic environmental assessments: https://www.cnsopb.ns.ca/our-role/environmental-protection/environmental-assessments/public-registry-seas.
Additionally, our CNSOPB specialists actively engage and participate in international research and science tables, and rely on scientific studies focused on the effects of sound on the marine environment. This helps the CNSOPB in determining necessary mitigation measures that must be put into practice. To this extent, and among many other means, the CNSOPB participates as a member of the International Offshore Petroleum Environment Regulators, and seeks direction from the Environmental Studies Research Fund, which provides peer-reviewed scientific literature on the effects of oil and gas on the marine environment.