Enabling Industry compliance with offshore regulation
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of St Andrews
Unit of AssessmentBiological Sciences
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Mathematical Sciences: Statistics
Environmental Sciences: Environmental Science and Management
Biological Sciences: Ecology
Summary of the impact
Research on the distribution, abundance and sensitivity to disturbance of
marine predators has been translated into environmental and economic
benefits via a series of spin-out companies with a global presence. The
research enabled the following impacts:
- PAMGuard software enables the oil and gas industry to conduct seismic
surveys within legal environmental limits, saving the industry ~$100M
- The licensing of the world's first grid-connected tidal stream power
station (SeaGen) in Strangford loch and offshore developments in the
- The progress of major engineering projects, including bridges (Forth
Crossing and Hong Kong to Macao) and port extensions (Vancouver).
Direct company earnings were ~£6 million turnover in the assessment
period and this supported 24 employees two-thirds of whom are skilled
The research conducted at the University of St Andrews by Professors Boyd,
Harwood, Hammond and colleagues has focussed upon resolving
the general hypothesis that marine predators can be used as indicators of
the state of the marine ecosystems . This is driven by the
concept that system complexity limits predictive capacity and that, in
exploited systems, there is a need for high-level indicators of system
state which can then be managed within a risk-based, adaptive framework.
The research was focused on solving the problems associated with the
capture of high quality, predictive data on marine predator populations
from a very challenging experimental system: the ocean. These challenges
were overcome using a spectrum of advances in data gathering, data
analysis and interpretation.
Research on the distribution and abundance of marine wildlife was
developed using three approaches:
a) distance sampling, which is a statistical method developed in St
Andrews that allows visual observation of marine mammals from ships or
aircraft to be used to estimate abundance using a robust statistical
b) detailed tracking of individual animals using electronic tags
developed in St Andrews .
c) the development of passive acoustic methods for detection and
classification of marine animals .
Calculation of total animal populations from each of these methods has
required the development of statistical methods that allow inference about
their use of space [3, 5]. The development of these methods was
driven in part to answer the question "What is the abundance and
distribution of marine mammals over the European continental shelf?"
In other words, the creation of a robust distribution map for the species
(fig 1). Hammond led a Europe-wide project using greatly enhanced
technology developed in St Andrews to survey whales, dolphins and
porpoises in the European Continental Shelf (SCANS II in 2006; http://biology.st-andrews.ac.uk/scans2/).
Building on this work, we tackled the question: "How does species
abundance and distribution change through time?" Spatial information
was gathered repeatedly to add a temporal component to better understand
the dynamics of habitat use. The information has been used to improve the
methods for defining areas with consistent high animal abundance, which
predicts high quality habitat [3, 6] (fig 1). These habitats form
the basis for suggestion of protected areas for animals or their food
supplies . In addition, this spatial information has provided
the foundation data for risk assessment and risk management of marine
offshore activities in the presence of high uncertainty .
References to the research
St Andrews contributors in BOLD. Employment dates in St Andrews:
Borchers 1993-present; Boyd 2001-present; Buckland 1993-present; Duck
1996-present; Fedak 1996-present; Hammond 1996-present; Harwood
1996-present; Hooker 2001-present; Matthiopoulos 1997-2012; McConnell
These are all published in international, peer-reviewed journals.
 Boyd IL & Murray AWA (2001) Monitoring a marine ecosystem
using responses of upper trophic level predators. J. Animal Ecol. 70,
747-760. DOI: 10.1046/j.0021-8790.2001.00534.x
 Borchers DL, Buckland ST, Goedhart PW, Clarke ED and
Hedley SL (1998) Horvitz-Thompson estimators for double-platform line
transect surveys. Biometrics 54, 1221-37. DOI: 10.2307/2533652
 Matthiopoulos, J., McConnell, B.J., Duck, C.D., Fedak, M.A.
(2004) Using satellite telemetry and aerial counts to estimate space use
by grey seals around the British Isles. J. Appl. Ecol. 41: 476-491 DOI: 10.1111/j.0021-8901.2004.00911.x
 Evans, P.G.H., Hammond, P.S. (2004) Monitoring
cetaceans in European waters. Mammal Review 34: 131-156 DOI: 10.1046/j.0305-1838.2003.00027.x.
 Hammond, P.S.; Berggren, P.; Benke, H.; et al. (2002)
Abundance of harbour porpoise and other cetaceans in the North Sea and
adjacent waters. J. Appl. Ecology 39: 361-376 DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2664.2002.00713.x.
 Harwood, J. (2000) Risk assessment and decision analysis in
conservation. Biological Conservation 95: 219-226 DOI: 10.1016/S0006-3207(00)00036-7.
Details of the impact
The underpinning research carried out by SMRU on the abundance,
distribution and behaviour of marine mammals has been translated during
the REF period to enable a wide range of commercial activity that impinges
on the marine environment to take place. The benefits are both
environmental and economic and the beneficiaries include marine wildlife,
renewable energy companies, oil and gas companies and major engineering
a) SOI Group Ltd: products and services
The main impact of the research has been delivered through the
establishment of 6 spin-out companies (SOI Ltd, SMRU Ltd, Marine
Instrumentation Ltd, SMRU Ltd (Canada), SMRU Ltd (USA) and SMRU Ltd (Hong
Kong)) operating under the umbrella company SOI Group Ltd. These are the
translational mechanism used to deliver products, in the form of bespoke
instruments and software, and services, in the form of advice about
environmental impacts or data analysis, to a broad range of customers
including oil and gas companies, electrical utilities, and developers such
as The Crown Estate in the UK. More than 70 industry customers have been
serviced since 2008. Direct company sales totalled ~£6 million (2008-2012)
with a compound annualised growth rate of 16% and this supported 24
employees (with 16 skilled specialists) [S6]. Products derived from
the research include:
i) Environmental impact assessments [S6]; ii) data collection,
management and analysis [S6]; iii) PAMGuard open access
software for acoustic detection of marine mammals, recognised by the
Technical Director of the International Association of Oil and Gas
Producers as a "highly successful product" that is "now widely
used in the industry across the world" [S5]. iv) PAMBuoy
for the automated detection and transmission of data concerning underwater
acoustic targets in the marine environment.
b) Managing risks of anthropogenic marine noise in EU waters
The European Union Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) of 2010
requires each member state to achieve good environmental status of their
marine habitats, including the requirement that "introduction of energy
(including underwater noise) does not adversely affect the ecosystem."
In some circumstances, intense sound generation is unavoidable.
Regulations require these activities to desist when marine animals are
present within a danger zone. The development of real-time passive
acoustic monitoring (PAMGuard) allows detection of marine mammals
in many circumstances where they cannot be sighted. In the words of the
Head of Marine Advice for the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee in
"St Andrews researchers have developed techniques for establishing the
presence of marine mammals in an area using passive monitoring for
underwater sounds made by the mammals. These techniques are now part of
standard mitigation around seismic surveys (...) in UK and some other EU
Oil and Gas Industries
The beneficial impact of PAMGuard on both marine life and the operating
costs of the offshore oil and gas industries has been clearly stated by
the President of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors
"it is usually a condition of operating licenses that operators
mitigate potential negative effects of seismic surveys on marine
mammals. This tool not only allows operators to comply with their
licenses, but to also minimize potential negative effects on any marine
mammals in the vicinity. The (PAMGuard) tool has evolved into a highly
successful product that enables a wide range of operators in the global
offshore oil and gas sector to conduct seismic surveys to the
satisfaction of regulators.
It can cost >$500k per day to operate our most complex and involved
surveys. We have documented cases where PAMGuard has saved many days of
downtime on such surveys. In such cases its use has resulted in millions
of dollars in savings. While not all surveys are this elaborate and
expensive, we conservatively estimate that on a global scale, PAMGuard
saves hundreds of days of down-time each year, resulting in downtime
savings approaching $100 million per year. This estimate does not
include the cost that could be incurred if operating licences were
withheld due to inability to effectively mitigate potential negative
effects from our operations. Indeed there are some circumstances in
which the industry would simply be unable to operate effectively without
The underpinning research allows measurement of marine mammal location
and abundance before, during and after commission of offshore energy
installations. The translation of the research has enabled renewable
energy operators to comply with the requirements of environmental
regulations. The Crown Estate is charged with developing the marine estate
(seabed) around the UK and as such is a "major facilitator for the
development of renewable energy from the marine environment" [S1].
The Chef Scientist for The Crown Estate asserts that "the long-term
activities of SMRU, as a genuine world centre of excellence in the
understanding of marine mammals, continue to be very important to the
Crown Estate's business" and that "the on-going efforts at St
Andrews to understand the population consequences of developments is
particularly important at this time" [S1]. SMRU Ltd (UK) has
used this to supply environmental impact assessments and mitigation of
potential impacts of the offshore wind industry and the emerging tidal
power generation industry [S2]. Examples of impact include the
delivery of pre-development assessments for the Aberdeen Wind Farm (AOWDC
Vattenfall), Forth and Tay wind farms (InchCape Offshore Ltd),
and the tidal arrays at Ramsey Sound (Tidal Energy Ltd), Sound of
Islay (SSE renewables) and Anglesey, Kyle Rhea, and the Pentland
Firth for MCT Ltd [S6].
SeaGen — the world's largest operational tidal stream turbine.
Marine Current Turbines (MCT) developed the world's first commercial
scale tidal-stream power station, which was installed in April 2008 in
Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland (fig 2). As a new technology, perceived
environmental risks could easily have halted the project. SMRU developed
and implemented the environmental risk management for marine mammals. This
included undertaking monitoring of the engineering activities during
installation and operation using a novel active sonar to detect marine
mammals and thus avoid collisions. An independent report by DTZ Consulting
in 2011 stated that SMRU "played a crucial role in reassuring the
regulator that the risk to marine mammals from the installation of the
turbine would be low, allowing the project to go ahead." [S8].
SMRU provided the evidence required for a successful defence of infraction
proceedings (essentially prosecution of a member state for infringing
European Law) initiated by the European Commission. This evidence was used
"to reassure the EC that environmental interests in the area are being
respected." [S8]. As a result the EC dropped the infraction.
This project represents a "huge step in derisking SeaGen and making it
a more attractive proposition for large-scale investors in the future."
[S8]. MCT has recently been bought bY Siemens and now plans to
deploy 500-1000 SeaGens in UK Waters by 2020. The MCT Business Development
Director envisages "a similar kind of support from SMRU for
developments at Anglesey, Kyle Rhea and the Pentland Firth" [S2].
Current Major Engineering Projects [S6]
SOI Group Ltd is delivering environmental impact assessments, monitoring
and risk management advice for a number of current major engineering
projects. These inputs are an essential component of these construction
projects, mandated by legislation from state authorities to minimise the
The Hong Kong — Macao Bridge. This 54 km bridge threatens the
endangered population of Chinese White Dolphins. SOI Group has deployed
PAMBuoy technology to provide assurance of minimal disturbance to dolphin
The New Forth Road Bridge. This is currently under construction
and one condition imposed by the Government is that underwater noise
levels be controlled to protect salmon and lampreys. SOI Group have
installed PAMBuoy technology to measure underwater noise levels in
real-time on site, allowing engineers to act should the noise thresholds
Vancouver Metro Harbor. The extension of this harbour by 25% could
threaten the resident population of Orca (Killer Whales). Construction
beginning in summer 2013 utilises PAMBuoy technology to mitigate this
Sources to corroborate the impact
[S1] Letter from the Chief Scientist of Crown Estates.
Corroborates importance of SMRU research for offshore developments in REF
[S2] Letter from the Business Development Officer, Marine Current
Turbines. Corroborates relationship with SMRU.
[S3] Letter from the President of the International Association of
Geophysical Contractors, Houston, Texas. Corroborates importance of
PAMGuard to offshore industry with value $100 million per year.
[S4] Letter from the Head of Marine Advice for the Joint Nature
Conservation Committee. Corroborates role of SMRU in developing standard
mitigation techniques for offshore developments.
[S5] Letter from the Technical Director of the International
Association of Oil and Gas Producers. Corroborates reach and significance
of PAMGuard software for offshore companies.
[S6] Statement from SOI (Group) Ltd reporting operational details,
staff numbers etc.
[S7] Report from the Commission to the Council and the European
Parliament. Contribution of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
(2008/56/EC) to the implementation of existing obligations, commitments
and initiatives of the Member States at EU or international level in the
sphere of environmental protection in marine waters. (p2, footnote 2 point
[S8] Economic assessment by DTZ corroborating importance of SMRU
research on successful deployment of SeaGen and in de-risking activities
of Marine Current Turbines.