For geophysical contractors, typically the first group deployed in a new region for exploration, the 1990s have demanded a keen environmental awareness.
Demanding, in part, because the industry has moved into increasingly sensitive regions: rain forests, fragile arctic regions, coastal zones.
But also demanding because seismic acquisition teams must have an environmental plan for any given project -- and know where to go to get the information necessary to develop that plan.
Often, that's easier said than done. Every country and state has a different set of rules, and the environmental labyrinth can be difficult to negotiate.
But some help is on the way. The International Association of Geophysical Contractors is updating its environmental guidelines to address all the complexities of this issue today.
"The environmental guidelines were first written in 1993, and the industry has changed significantly since that time," said Mark Nelson, chairman of the IAGC Health, Safety and Environmental Committee. "New technology and equipment as well as new exploration areas like the transition zone prompted us to revamp these guidelines."
Murray Saxton, chairman of the IAGC environmental guidelines work group, agrees.
"All seismic contractors have gotten more sophisticated concerning environmental issues," Saxton said, "and the growth of 3-D seismic into an integral part of the petroleum industry has put even more emphasis on environmental concerns."
Saxton is the corporate health, safety and environment officer of the Americas for CGG and chairman-elect of the IAGC HSE committee.
His workgroup first identified the areas in the existing environmental guidelines that need updating or expansion.
"After studying the existing manual we realized there were a lot of things missing," Saxton said, including:
The "most substantive changes," he said, came in the areas of:
- Community relations.
- Increased emphasis on 3-D seismic operations.
- Operating in marine, transition zone, agricultural, urban and semi-urban areas and existing oil fields.
- Information on environmental impact assessments -- and how to do one.
"The old manual covered the environmental aspects of working in most sensitive areas like the rain forest and arctic regions," Nelson added, "but we decided to add coastal transition zones, agricultural lands, urban areas and existing oil fields and other industrial areas. The explosion of 3-D has made operations in these situations more commonplace than they were just a few years ago."
Nelson is with Dawson Geophysical in Midland, Texas.
"In marine operations we are addressing management of chartered and support vessels, ocean bottom seismic, working around marine life, fishing co-ordinations and third party interference," he continued, "all topics not included in the first guidelines."
The IAGC committee, however, does not plan to get too specific about any given area.
"We are working toward an international document that will be applicable worldwide, and we realized very quickly that the mountains of documents you would need to cover everything was just too massive," Saxton said. "We couldn't possibly cover every possible angle.
"The idea is for these guidelines to be a starting point for information and advice for field personnel putting together a proper environmental plan -- and as a roadmap for where to go to get the specific environmental regulations for operating in any given area."
To meet that goal, the work group is making a reference section one of the most important aspects of the new environmental guidelines.
"A large reference section is the biggest change from the original guidelines," Nelson said. "Here in the United States we are aware of the environmental regulations, but a crew deployed to Malaysia or China, for example, needs some guidance on where to go to find out the local regulations and restrictions."
The reference section will include everything from books to Web sites -- an international environmental network.
"Right now our reference database is divided into four areas -- industrial, international, governmental and research," Nelson continued.
- An industrial reference, he said, would be the UK Offshore Operations Association or the World Conservation Union.
- International references would include groups like the World Bank, the International Maritime Organization or the United Nations Environmental Program.
- Governmental references would be such agencies as the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau or the Norwegian Ministry of Environmental Affairs.
- Research references would encompass groups like the Asian Wetlands Bureau or the Coral Reef Alliance.
"Currently, the reference section has 386 entries," Nelson said, "and we've just scratched the surface of the references that are out there."
The international focus of the new guidelines, according to Saxton, is an important goal.
"One of the knocks of the first set of guidelines was they are too American," he said. "We are working very hard to make the new guidelines an international document by including people from all over the world in the planning and implementation process."
E-mail has definitely helped make this approach a reality, Saxton said. "We can communicate with our colleagues worldwide on a regular basis."
Another important element for the new guidelines is providing a user-friendly format that will be accessible to everybody from the corporate office to the field crew.
"We want to provide as many formats as possible for the new guidelines, including CD-ROM, diskette, book form, loose leaf and pocket size," he said. "With the electronic formats we hope to take a modular approach so that people can pick and choose those sections that apply to any given job and build their own manual tailored to a specific project."
CD-ROM is shaping up as the linchpin of the whole process, he continued, "and we are looking at making that very sophisticated and full-featured."
The IAGC Web site will be used to continually update the guidelines.
The guidelines should be completed by the end of the year or early in 2000, according to Nelson. The work group plans to send the final guidelines to various people for review -- including representatives of industry, government and academia.
Saxton added that the new guidelines will meet or exceed ISO 14,000 requirements. ISO is the International Standards Organization and ISO 14,000 is the certification for environmental safety.
"Since we are typically the first ones into a new area, it is increasingly important for geophysical operations to be environmentally friendly -- and as an industry we have stepped up and made a commitment to protecting the environment," Nelson said.
"Most companies today have an environmental staff or work with a consultant to insure that environmental issues are addressed in their operations. We want these new guidelines to reflect that level of commitment by the geophysical industry."