Environmental planning work for the next big development of Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry is set for a rapid expansion, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The marine research agency is looking to hire seven senior scientists as it begins the critical baseline studies needed for environmental planning in the offshore oil and gas industry.

AIMS Research Director Jamie Oliver said the expansion was especially notable in a social context where evidence of science’s powerful return-on-investment can struggle to gain recognition through funding.

“Australia’s marine economy, largely driven by offshore oil and gas investment and activity, will double over the next 20 years from the $42 billion plus it generated in 2009- 2010,” Dr Oliver said. “These new positions will play a critical role in enhancing the science base AIMS delivers to meet the Federal Government’s and Australian industry’s need to support this dramatic growth,” he said. “Underlining the new positions’ social, economic and scientific importance is that it is projected by 2025 the combined value of Australian marine industries and ecosystem services to the Australian economy will be more than $100 billion per annum.”

AIMS Research manager Lyndon Llewellyn told Oil & Gas Australia the new roles would be an investment in answering questions about the long term effects of oil and gas development backed by baseline studies.

“Baseline studies give organisations like AIMS and industry critical and comprehensive information in assessing possible impacts to ocean ecosystems,” Dr Llewellyn said. “It is amazing how we much we don’t know about our very own oceans and these new scientists will be finding that out, so we know what is down there and how it functions,” he said. “We understand that industry requires the best possible knowledge of the day to make decisions on offshore developments, as a nation we are rated well but oil and gas exploration is pushing boundaries of never- before-seen entry into deepwater – it’s those ecosystems we must learn about and protect, because we simply don’t know enough about it.”

“Once completed, our study data can be compared to global studies, we can become an independent provider of advice to industry to reduce cost and mitigate risk.”

Dr Oliver said most of the growth was projected to come from increases in offshore oil and gas production, as well as maritime trade resulting from mining and coal seam gas exports. “This is dominated – geographically – by the continuing rise of tropical Australia as an economic powerhouse,” he said.

“It is in the national interest to ensure the country’s ‘blue economy’ is supported by far-sighted, sustainable management strategies which will only eventuate if high quality scientific research exists and it delivers the knowledge base these strategies require,” Dr Oliver said. “We’ll be using the expertise and insights these positions bring to AIMS to enhance the quality of our partnerships with industry. We are in the unique position of providing opportunities for scientists to undertake ground-breaking research which will not only lead to the publishing of papers and career enhancement, but at the same time delivering outcomes which will benefit industry and Australian civil society,” he said.

“These scientists will get to see their research put into action and (be) making a tangible, positive difference to the lives of many, many people specifically as well as, through economic and positive environmental impact, all Australians as a whole. The personal satisfaction this will deliver is likely to be immense.”

The AIMS laboratories are located in the global marine science hubs of Perth and Townsville, near both James Cook University and the University of Western Australia.

Working with AIMS will provide opportunities for the scientists to work with some of Australia’s leading marine science academics in multi-disciplinary teams, as well as supervising students in graduate programs.

“There exist a number of ‘grand challenges’ – many with a focus on the tropical north of Australia – which require focused research and development about our ‘ocean estate’ and how marine science can contribute solutions to challenges facing this estate,” said Dr Oliver.

“AIMS has strengths in a number of these challenges, including biodiversity protection, resource allocation and climate change, each of which are linked to our ocean, reef and coastal science programs which focus on the Great Barrier Reef, tropical Australian coral ecosystems and North-West Australian marine ecosystems.”