Offshore Angola Environmental Baseline Survey

InterAct helped keep a crucial development project on track by providing rapid turnaround of an environmental baseline survey off the coast of Angola. The planned project covers the development of new satellite oilfields by a major oil company in the deep waters offshore Angola. Towards the end of 2012, the Angolan Ministry of Petroleum informed the client that the development could not proceed without a new environmental baseline survey of the area being submitted and approved. Furthermore, the survey would have to conform to the latest monitoring guidelines issued by the Angolan government.

These conditions were a major challenge to the clients’ planned development timeline. The typical industry turnaround time from regulatory approval of the sampling plan to delivery of an environmental baseline report to the regulators for review is 6–8 months. The process typically includes designing and producing a sampling and analysis plan; procuring a vessel; assembling and contracting a scientific team; performing sophisticated chemical analyses on water and sediment samples; removing macrofauna from retained sediment (sorting) and taxonomic identification of benthic macrofauna; evaluating the data;and generating a readable, scientifically supported report.

A further complication involved the new analytical parameters from the Angolan regulators. Most of the nonstandard measurements (for example, radioactivity) required only increases in the sample volumes collected, additional sample-specific containers and the identification of laboratories qualified to perform the analyses. However, some of the analyses (for example, for faecal coliform bacteria and biological oxygen demand) had very tight holding-time constraints that required laboratory processing to begin within 6–24 hours of sample collection. The time necessary for transporting samples to a land-based laboratory would exceed the holding-time regulations and invalidate the results. Consequently, the survey had to use a vessel with an on-board laboratory. Realizing the need for a high-quality, rapid-turnaround environmental baseline survey, the client contacted InterAct’s senior project director Cynda Maxon to discuss compressing the anticipated 6–8-month process into about five months. InterAct was well placed to respond to this tough challenge, as Maxon explains, “We had already provided the client with a comprehensive review of the Angolan environmental baseline survey monitoring requirements, including detailed evaluations of the monitoring and analytical parameters, which samples could be preserved for later analysis, which would need processing on the vessel and what specialized equipment was necessary. We had also identified the standard sampling equipment and the technical qualifications of the survey’s scientific team, including any need for in-country technical personnel, and given the client a comprehensive sampling and analysis plan for a combined environmental baseline and post-drilling survey in the deep waters offshore Angola.”

InterAct evaluated historical data on Angolan benthic macrofauna and produced a white paper arguing the merits of identifying and reporting macrofaunal organisms to the family level rather than the traditional species level.
Maxon says, “One of the primary choke points in the analytical process of an environmental baseline survey is the identification of macrofauna. This reflects both the limited number of qualified taxonomists and the status of taxonomy for marine communities offshore Angola. Using existing data, we argued that changing the level of identification would decrease the project cost and reduce the turnaround time, family-level identification being simpler and faster, without compromising data quality or scientific integrity.”

Maxon was asked to accept the responsibilities of on-board client representative on the vessel, which called for training beforehand in Houston, USA, and Luanda. During the sampling campaign, she served as the clients’ on-board representative quality assurance and control officer, and had to provide emergency cover when a sampling technician was unavailable owing to a family emergency before the voyage began.

With time saving a priority, Maxon found scope to accelerate the field sampling program without compromising quality or safety. “The sampling contractors had scheduled 10–14 days for the operation,’ says Maxon, “but we managed to reduce the actual time at sea to only five. The survey operations passed without incident and the time critical samples were processed on the vessel under my direction.”

Estimates of the turnaround time for the benthic taxonomic identification ranged from 12 to 24 weeks, which was unacceptable for the mid-March deadline of the final report. Maxon pulled together a group of internationally recognized marine taxonomists who delivered high-quality data to InterAct in just three weeks.

The analytical laboratories provided the last of the sediment and water data to InterAct in late January and these formed the basis of a comprehensive environmental baseline survey document. The final 126-page report was submitted on schedule and on budget, thereby helping to keep the development program on track.

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