The sea burns and asks for silence

The sea burns and asks for silence 1289 1218 The Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea

Last Thursday, July 1st, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina held the first public hearing in that country to hear the opinions of citizens regarding the environmental impact study of the project that will search for hydrocarbons (seismic prospecting) in blocks CAN 108, CAN 100 and CAN 114, located in the northern continental shelf basin of Argentina, 300 km off Mar del Plata.

The hearing began with an exhibition given by Equinor, the Norwegian company that has the permit to perform the exploration, and it was followed by the presentation of the results of the environmental impact study performed by the consulting company Serman & Asociados S.A.

Between 2017 and 2020, the Ministry of Energy granted permits for seismic studies over more than 1 000 000 km2 of sea surface until year 2028. As a result of these studies, 38 blocks were offered in concession, and 18 of them were allotted to 13 energy companies, without previous referendum. This is the first seismic exploration project in three of those blocks where the environmental impact study faces a public hearing.

The Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea and Areas of Influence participated in the first day of the hearing through its coordinator, Alexandra Sapoznikow, who said that some of the areas granted for seismic prospection overlap to a great extent with areas identified in 2016 by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development as high-priority zones for conservation and as potential marine areas. These zones are home to great biodiversity and hold important ecological processes like egg-laying of species of ecological and commercial importance, migration of squid, and feeding of birds, marine turtles and mammals.

Sapoznikow also stated that the execution of seismic prospection activities and the potential oil extraction activities go against international treaties to which the Argentine Republic subscribes, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which promote the creation of marine protected areas; or the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce climatic change minimizing greenhouse gases emissions.

In seismic prospecting, ships use air guns to fire explosive charges, and the sound waves reach the seabed, bounce back, and are picked up by ships. This helps reveal the nature of the terrain and possible hydrocarbon extraction areas. The sound emitted by the air guns can reach up to 260 underwater decibels, which is comparable to the sound produced by an earthquake or a submarine volcanic eruption; this sound can reach a distance of 4000 km (the approximate distance between La Rioja and Tierra del Fuego).

This level of sound is extremely higher than the usual noise level in the marine environment, and it modifies the behavior of species, from the smallest such as plankton, to the largest such as marine mammals or giant squids. This sound masks their communication, hinders their perception of the environment and their ability to move across relevant habitats, causes stress reactions, interferes with their vital functions, reduces the availability of prey, and can cause physical and physiological injuries, and even death.

Exploration and hydrocarbon extraction activities must be evaluated together before they are put in practice. It is difficult to control and predict the impacts, so: Which criteria were used in the evaluation that lead to think that the risk associated with an activity of this nature was low?

There were more than 500 exponents (the vast majority of them were against prospecting). The three days long hearing can be seen in the YouTube channel of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina.

God’s screenwriter

While the first public hearing regarding seismic exploration in the Argentine ocean was taking place, last Friday there was an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico caused by a gas leak at an oil platform of the state-owned company Pemex. According to the Mexican company, it took them five hours to put out the fire. No one was injured, but little is known about the effects that this explosion might have on the marine ecosystem.

Explosion in the Caspian Sea

Last Sunday there was an explosion and a fire in the Caspian Sea near the coast of Azerbaijan. The news agency Sputnik published that, according to Azeri media, this took place in a platform of the state-owned oil and gas company Socar.

For its part, the Azerbaijani Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Committee said the fire had begun at the Umid gas field, a former exploration zone. Reuters informed that Socar denied this statement, and said the fire was caused by a mud volcano. The official cause of the explosion and the fire has not been confirmed yet.

The Caspian Sea is Azerbaijan’s main site of gas extraction exporting to Europe.

New document

The Forum has a working group that analyzes seismic prospecting and prepared the report “Situation, risks and impacts of seismic prospecting in Argentina”. In the coming weeks the document will be sent to the authorities and will be available in our publications section.

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