IWDG express concern over seismic survey in Dublin Bay - UPDATED18th Feb 2013
Providence Resources recently announced it has surrendered the Foreshore Licence granted over an area in the Kish Bank Basin, in Dublin Bay because the Irish Government had not correctly transposed the EIA Directive in 1999. This means that the proposed seismic survey in Dublin Bay and the Kish Bank Basin has been temporarily postponed until the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) amends the planning and environment regulations.
The IWDG welcome Providence Resources postponement of its 2D seismic survey in Dublin Bay and looks forward to its Natura Impact Statement including an acoustic footprint and assessment of the impact of the seismic survey on the proposed marine SAC for harbour porpoise covering an area from Rockabill to Dalkey Island (Site code: 003000). The IWDG wrote to Providence expressing concern that the mitigation proposed in its Environmental Risk Assessment was inadequate and the disturbance and impact to harbour porpoise was potentially significant and in contravention of national legislation and EU Directives.
According to the site map there was some overlap between the area covered by the licence granted to Providence Resources and the proposed marine SAC. Average porpoise densities recorded in this area exceed densities recorded elsewhere in the Irish Sea and around the Irish coast.
Following Minister Deenihan’s announcement of the new marine SAC’s the IWDG wrote to him seeking an Appropriate Assessment of the impact of the proposed seismic survey on harbour porpoises in Dublin Bay. IWDG also asked for a before and after monitoring program on harbour porpoises as a licensing condition prior to the Petroleum Affairs Division of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources issuing any consent, to gather empirical data on the effects of these activities to create a better basis for deciding appropriate mitigation measures for future seismic surveys, in Dublin Bay or elsewhere.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (Case C-383/09) indicated that EU Member States must not only adopt a comprehensive legislative framework in respect of Article 12 but must also implement concrete and specific protection measures. They also made it clear that the required system of strict protection pre-supposes the adoption of coherent and coordinated measures of a preventive nature.
Such a system of strict protection must enable the effective avoidance of deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places of the species listed in Annex IV(a) to the Habitats Directive, which includes all species of cetacea, as well as the avoidance of ‘deliberate’ disturbance of such species. The Court of Justice has clarified that ‘deliberate’ is broader than ‘intentional’ for the purposes of Article 12, and in fact extends to cover proceeding with an activity having (merely) accepted the possibility that the activity will result in the prohibited outcome (see Cases C- 221/04 and C-103/00).
Last December, An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, was granted leave by the High Court for a judicial review of the decision by the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government to grant a Foreshore Licence to Providence Resources Ltd in Dublin Bay.
An Taisce contended that the decision did not conform with the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. It is also concerned that a failure in the national EIA legislative framework, on which this decision was made, has implications for both offshore and onshore drilling.
Shay Fennelly, IWDG Director
17 December 2012
Following the announcement that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are proposing to declare a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for harbour porpoises off the Dublin coast the IWDG sought clarification from the EU regarding the proposed seismic survey and drilling off the Kish Bank.
The proposed SAC stretches from Rockabill to the north and Dalkey Island to the south and offshore to 5° 58' to the east, thus encompassing some of the area proposed for a 2D seismic survey.
According to Liam Cashman of the European Commission "Under Ireland's Habitats Regulations, a proposed site of Community interest is subject to the same legal requirements as an SCI, including a requirement of appropriate assessment where a plan or project is likely to have a significant effect. Given this, and given that seismic surveys would be likely to have a significant effect, it would seem necessary for an appropriate assessment to be carried out".
Given this opinion the IWDG cannot see how this planned 2D survey can continue until a full Appropriate Assessment of the potential impact is carried out. The IWDG would like to see details of a full pre and post survey for harbour porpoise, including statc acoustic monitoring in the event that the seismic survey still goes ahead.
30 November 2012
The IWDG have expressed concern over the potential impact of a 2D seismic survey on harbour porpoises in Dublin Bay. This is in response to a foreshore license granted on the 27 September 2012 to Providence Resources for these activities.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group have written to Minister Jan O'Sullivan suggesting that he Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) is deficient because it has not assessed the footprint of the seismic survey and the mitigation proposed is inadequate and the disturbance and impact to cetaceans, especially harbour porpoise, is potentially significant and in contravention of national legislation and EU Directives.
Harbour porpoise, which is an Annex II species is entitled to strict protection, has been recorded at very high densities in Dublin Bay during surveys carried out by the IWDG in 2008 on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Acoustic detection rates were the highest recorded anywhere in Ireland. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the effect of a seismic survey on harbour porpoise doesn’t seem to have been carried out, with the potential environmental impacts being assessed by the Marine Licence Veting Committee (MLVC) by means of an Annex IV Risk Assessment.
Guidelines are inadequate to protect porpoises during this upcoming survey
The assessment screening states that implementation of the NPWS Code of Practice for the Protection of Marine Mammals during Acoustic Seafloor Surveys in Irish Waters (2007) and seasonal restrictions on when the survey takes place, will provide sufficient mitigation of impacts on cetaceans. The license awarded states that the survey will have an MMO onboard the survey vessel to watch for cetaceans. However, the IWDG suggest that these measures are not adequate and are only sufficient for mitigating the impacts of seismic surveys on harbour porpoise if sea state is ≤ Beaufort 2 and in daylight hours. NPWS guidelines provide no mitigation for harbour porpoise in higher sea states, or at night. Seasonal restrictions require the survey to be carried out between August and January a period which includes the stormiest time of year. Harbour porpoise occur at the site throughout the year and are likely resident thus this seasonal restriction is unlikely to offer much reduced impact.
A system of strict protection requires impact monitoring
Impact monitoring is needed to gather vital data on the effects of seismic surveys on harbour porpoises, and is recommended as an additional condition on the license. Compliance with the NPWS guidelines does not constitute monitoring and as porpoises are elusive and spend 95% of their time underwater and are difficult to see in a sea state >Beaufort 1, the guidelines do not serve to protect them once the works are on-going. In addition there are specific data required on their site usage prior to the works and a monitoring plan to assess how they recover after the works.
On this occasion NPWS are negligent, as they are not providing strict protection to an Annex II (and Annex IV) species, and also considering that the activity is to be carried out in proximity to their proposed SAC for this species.
The IWDG consider that the process of consultation, screening, scoping etc is inadequately covered by a Risk Assessment, and that a full EIA is appropriate for seismic surveys and should be a legal requirement. A seismic survey is an integral part of oil and gas exploration and can have adverse effects on Annex IV species.
Current structures have failed to take into account displacement of porpoises leading to potential significant impact. Under Article 12 of the Habitats Directive, MS are obliged to have a strict protection for cetaceans and to take a precautionary approach. The environmental information provided to the MLVC is not sufficient to make a recommendation to license the proposed development.
Dr Simon Berrow, IWDG Executive Officer