I get a lot of stuff in my inbox every day, as do most of us. But as a magazine editor, much of my mail is from companies hoping to have me write about them or at least publish their press releases. The relevant ones I do; the irrelevant ones I trash (or forward, if they’re hysterically off-topic).

But once in awhile a story comes along that I think deserves some real play, and that’s why you will see information about the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) and its joint industry program (JIP) on the effects of exploration and production sound on marine life in an upcoming issue of E&P as well as in my blog. There are lots of JIPs out there doing good things, and typically they’re also looking for more funding. This particular JIP asked if I could help get the word out. And I’m happy to help.

Few in the upstream offshore sector are unaware of the concerns of environmental groups and regulators about the potential impact of manmade noise on marine life. The US government recently enacted the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which requires, among other things, that a trained spotter be aboard every vessel to spot whales and mitigate the situation before the animal has a chance to be adversely affected by the operation. Those who have to comply with these regulations find them somewhat burdensome, but other groups don’t think we’re going far enough. The International Association of Geophysical Contractors, for instance, recently sent members an e-mail outlining the intentions of a group called the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that plans to sue the US Minerals Management Service for its lack of MMPA enforcement.

While the statement from the CBD implies a well-understood connection between seismic surveys and damage to marine mammals, there is little scientific evidence to back this up. That’s not to say they’re wrong; it’s just that so little research has been done until recently, and several unknowns remain.

The goal of the JIP is to raise money from participants and let contracts to research organizations to study issues that it thinks will help member companies run their businesses in an environmentally responsible way. One of the neatest gadgets to come out of the JIP to date is a software program called PAMGuard. Used to interpret the results of passive acoustic monitoring (PAM), PAMGuard is a software program used onboard a vessel that indicates the presence of marine mammals in the vicinity of a survey based on the sounds they make underwater. It can, and has, been trained to pick distinctive species noises out of a jumble of overlying noise and indicate the animal’s presence. PAMGuard won’t necessarily replace spotters but can certainly complement them at times when visibility is low.

PAMGuard software is free and open-source, and literature points out that both of these elements are critical. Found as a free download at SourceForge.net, PAMGuard is open to the intellectual resources of the oil and gas and research communities. The website also supports developers with a developer tutorial and full developer training notes. These notes include how to make PAMGuard plug-ins and how to get signed up for the developer newsletter.

Why make it so easy? Simple – the JIP wants everyone to use PAMGuard, partly to get the remaining glitches out but mostly to show a unified front to critics who feel industry doesn’t care about marine life. The goal is to get the entire offshore industry, including the seismic contractors, aware of and using PAMGuard so that when regulations change, as they will, the industry will be ready.

For more information about the JIP, visit www.soundandmarinelife.org. For more information about OGP, visit www.ogp.org.uk.