Rapid turnaround of environmental baseline survey, offshore Angola.
ExxonMobil Development Company and Esso Exploration Angola Ltd have developed 11 oilfields in the deep waters of Angola Block 15 since the early 2000s. The planned Kizomba Satellites Phase 2 project covers the development of three new satellite oilfields (Bavuca, Kakocha and Mondo South) during the fourth quarter of 2013. Towards the end of 2012, the Angolan Ministry of Petroleum informed ExxonMobil 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.
InterAct helped to keep the development plans on track by providing an exceptionally rapid response to these new requirements.
These conditions were a major challenge to the planned fourth quarter development. 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.
Realising the need for a high-quality, rapid-turnaround environmental baseline survey, ExxonMobil’s environmental manager contacted InterAct’s senior programme manager 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 ExxonMobil 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 specialised 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 ExxonMobil 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 for ExxonMobil 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.”
ExxonMobil asked InterAct to rewrite the larger environmental baseline and post-drilling sampling and analysis plan to address only the Kizomba Satellites Phase 2 development project within Lease Block AB15. Maxon says, “We completed this task quite quickly. We incorporated the new regulatory requirements and ensured that the sampling contractors would understand the specific scope of work, their responsibilities and ExxonMobil’s expectations with respect to quality, expedited sampling and analytical processing.”
The next challenge was to find and hire a suitable vessel. InterAct was aware that TDI Brooks International would be conducting a survey at around the same time in Angolan waters for Chevron with its scientific research vessel, the R/V Gyre. ExxonMobil usually places an on-board representative on such survey vessels but had no one available for the environmental baseline survey sampling campaign which was now scheduled for October 2012.
Maxon was asked to accept the responsibilities of on-board representative on the vessel, which called for ExxonMobil training beforehand in Houston, USA, and Luanda. During the sampling campaign, she served as the ExxonMobil 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 fieldsampling programme 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 timecritical samples were processed on the vessel under my direction.” Olga Choy, environmental and regulatory adviser, ExxonMobil Development Company, states, “The time saving on the sampling programme was achieved thanks to the leadership of the on-board representative. She optimised the sampling process, thereby reducing the time required to conduct the programme.”
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 recognised 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 Kizomba Satellites Phase 2 development programme on track.