Despite the controversy about oil exploration in the Arctic, companies are anxious to continue their seismic exploration for potential oil and gas reserves under the Arctic seabed, in complete and utter disregard for the damage to arctic animals.
Against ongoing protest, the Canadian government has granted permission for a consortium of companies to explore the Canadian seabed off Baffin Island. The three oil companies that make up the consortium are TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company ASA, Petroleum GeoServices and MultiKlient Invest AS. Currently, the Norwegian company hired by the consortium of companies is conducting tests off the coast off Greenland.
Greenpeace has sent a ship to monitor the testing and record it and how it may be affecting marine life. Greenpeace has sent a crew aboard its Arctic Sunrise icebreaker to record — with photos, video and audio — a TGS-Nopec 2D seismic project in real time. Greenpeace will not interfere in any way with the seismic exploration. Using an array of air guns, the seismic tests produce pulses of sound waves that will penetrate the sea floor. The reflected sounds are then detected with sophisticated instruments which determine the various layers under the seabed and locate potential reservoirs of gas and oil. According to a report commissioned for Greenpeace, the air guns will emit sounds estimated to reach 230 decibels at a distance of three feet, repeat those pulses every 13 to 15 seconds and do so 24 hours a day while operating as they create a map of the seabed and layers. In comparison, a jet engine emits 150 decibels at take-off, at a distance of 82 feet. Live rock music can reach 110 decibels.
The Nunavut communities on Baffin Island and elsewhere have said this testing will be harmful to the animals they depend on, and their way of life. They have launched a series of challenges to prevent the testing. The legal case has been making it’s way through the various levels of the judicial system.
On August 17th the federal court of appeal ruled against the town of Clyde River and other Nunavut communities which had launched a legal challenge against the testing off Baffin Island. That challenge may now be headed for the Supreme Court.
Alex Speers-Roesch, of the Arctic Campaign for Greenpeace Canada, says the purpose of the Greenpeace monitoring of testing off Greenland is to gather more information about what is involved in such testing and make the public more aware of the situation. The information may be used to help in a possible further legal challenge to the testing.
To further bolster concerns against such testing, Greenpeace Nordic (Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway) has also just released a 100-page report titled “A Review of the Impact of Seismic Survey Noise on Narwhal and other Arctic Cetaceans” on the how many species use sound to communicate, navigate, and forage for food and how underwater sound pollution can adversely effect them.
Speers-Roesch points out that the animals are extremely sensitive to sound, citing an example of a case where Narwhal reacted to the sound of a ship breaking through ice some 50 miles away.
Research also has suggested seismic tests are linked to a long list of stress behaviours. Fin whales have stopped singing. Sperm whales seem to grow sluggish and eat less. Most whales and dolphins leave. One paper suggested at least 37 marine species have been shown to be affected by seismic air-gun noise.
In their submission to the Federal Court regarding the future Canadian testing TGS-Nopec says it would mitigate any potential harm in several ways including for example, by turning the air guns off if any marine mammals are detected through acoustic monitoring. They would also hire Inuit monitors to be on board.
This is the fifth year that TGS Nopec has been conducting tests off Greenland. Although it has Canadian government licenses and did not test in Canadian waters this year, the company says it will begin tests off Baffin Island next year.