Protecting Aquatic Biodiversity
The following projects are just a few examples of our water protection work
Vermilion is currently engaged in a multi-industry, regulatory-driven initiative to assess water crossings on forested, Crown lands in Alberta. The objective is to identify and repair (or replace) crossings that may represent a potential barrier to fish passage or risk to fish habitat. The majority of the crossings in our operating area predate Vermilion's operating tenure.
As part of the program, Vermilion has completed an initial, screening level assessment of crossings within our western Alberta region, and developed a staged, risk-based prioritization scheme for further assessment and remedial response. Remedial measures related to several crossings have been completed and the program remains ongoing.
In France, we are a member of the Regional Water Basin Committee in the Ambès region located on an estuary that leads to the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of six water basin committees in the country, and brings together both private and public stakeholders to address the main priorities of the region’s water policy and the protection of its natural aquatic environments. The committee was responsible for the creation of a master plan for water development and management (SDAGE), and is often referred to as the “Water Parliament” of the basin.102-13
Inland from the French coast, our operations on and near Parentis Lake are benefiting from our boat, the Pelican, which is used for our lake rounds. It has increased our presence and monitoring, offering a gain in intervention efficiency. From an environmental perspective, the engines meet the latest standards and regulations. This reduces fuel consumption and the boat's wake, thus offering greater respect for other lake users such as fishermen and sailors.
In addition, we have organized several Days of Caring through our community investment activities that see our staff caring for the lakes near our operations, clearing non-native invasive species from the shoreline, for example.
Like all facilities operating in Australian federal waters, Vermilion’s Wandoo Facilities are required to have a Safety Case and Environment Plan that are assessed and accepted by the Regulator, NOPSEMA. The Safety Case and Environment Plan are objective- and evidence-based assessments requiring the Regulator to be satisfied that:
The Environment Plan requires review and resubmission at least every five years. It addresses the environmental impact from Operations, Well Construction and oil spill response. We undertook a comprehensive environmental risk and impact assessment for all our activities within the Wandoo Field. In addition, we maintain a comprehensive spill response plan, which is aligned to our spill hazards and operating environment, and review and test its capability requirements annually. NOPSEMA accepted our most recent Operations and Well Construction Environment Plans in 2021.
The Regulator conducts regular inspections to confirm compliance.
As part of this work, we undertook offshore marine monitoring in late 2015 within the Wandoo Field. This included the characterization of the epifauna using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), water sampling and sediment sampling to:
The ROV environmental monitoring survey revealed an ecosystem at Wandoo with a number of transient species, including turtles, sharks and rays, spotted at the base of our platforms. Corals, sponges, clams and molluscs cover the concrete structure.
The program was developed to identify Vermilion’s potential impacts on the marine environment in order to achieve further improvements in environmental management if required. As a major stakeholder in the region, it is Vermilion’s responsibility to the wider community to assist in maintaining the health of the regional environment.
Assessing the Potential of Rigs to Reefs
In Australia, there are no prescriptive rules on how offshore platforms should be decommissioned. The onus is on the titleholder (Vermilion) to provide an evidence-based risk assessment to demonstrate the proposed method is acceptable. Ideally, the evidence should be medium to long term in nature, independent and scientifically rigorous.
Conventionally, platforms would be removed from their ocean locations once production has ceased. However, given that many were constructed 30-40 years ago, they have become novel ecosystems, acting as artificial reefs, with the potential to support fully functioning ecosystems. Initially, primary producers and epifauna settle on the structure. As plants, corals and primary producers settle and grow, greater numbers of fish are attracted to food, shelter and spawning habitat.
The degree to which decommissioned platforms deliver ecological benefits, however, remains relatively unknown. Research on artificial reefs indicates that biodiversity value does vary between different types of structures, with factors that influence biodiversity similar to natural reefs: structure, depth relief, age and location.
We have therefore supported an independent scientific study conducted by the University of Western Australia (UWA) to test hypotheses on fish productivity around platforms (rigs), as it would provide relevant environmental information for our decommissioning assessments and be rigorously reviewed as part of thesis and scientific publications. We provided the logistics (vessels), monetary support and access to Wandoo waters for two campaigns a year.
Six campaigns have taken place, monitoring the Wandoo platform and its surrounding area on our behalf. Methods include deployment of seabed and mid-water baited remote underwater video systems; these identify fish gatherings in relation to distance from the platform. Existing remotely operated vehicle video data has also been incorporated to further define this novel ecosystem.
The study, published in February 2022 in Ecology and Evolution, found that the abundance and diversity of marine life at the Wandoo oil field were higher than they would have been pre-installation. Additionally, the fish community inhabiting the platform area was distinct from that of a nearby natural reef, with a novel ecosystem emerging at the platform.
The animals ranged from tiny baitfish to large minke whales, and included sharks, manta rays, sea snakes and turtles. Several species were observed exclusively at Wandoo, including rainbow runner, Malabar grouper and tawny nurse sharks.
Find the full study here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.8496