By Andrew Hobbs

MORE than 100 gaps in knowledge have been identified as priority research areas in a new blueprint for marine research offshore Western Australia, including 16 categories highlighted by representatives of the oil and gas industry.

Developed by Australian Venture Consultants for the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI), the Blueprint for Marine Science spells out what areas of knowledge should be improved over the next 15 years, with a view to the next 35 years.

The Blueprint said most production activity focused on the Carnarvon and Bonaparte basins at present, and further development and exploration activity focused on the Browse basin.

Despite the fact that oil and gas sector knowledge needs varied on a case-by-case basis, there were still some areas where industry-wide knowledge was required.

Among these were developing a deeper understanding of the physical ocean environment in which offshore assets are deployed and operated – and how this may change over time.

Also included was the need for a better understanding of the impact of offshore exploration, development and operations, including potential hydrocarbon contamination incidents, on the natural marine environment and other users of the marine estate.

Options for decommissioning offshore infrastructure, management of an ongoing social licence to operate and demonstration that the industry can operate with minimum impact to the environment are also required.

Specifically, the Blueprint found that baseline data for biodiversity, for boundary layer currents, seabed mobility and other physical ocean data and for the noise profile of the North West Shelf needed to be uncovered so that the impact of oil and gas activity could be measured.

Scientists also needed to develop a better understanding of the cumulative impacts of offshore systems, through the exploration, development and operational phases, the Blueprint found.

A better understanding of the risk profile and cost benefits associated with leaving decommissioned infrastructure in place, developing better benthic rehabilitation techniques and improving methods of monitoring and managing the impact of invasive marine species also needed to be on the agenda.

The Blueprint suggested scientists help develop a better understanding of the likely impact of changing water temperatures on hydrate formation in subsea production equipment and develop a better understanding of marine fouling in the North West of WA.

It was likely that other areas would become a focus area for oil and gas companies in the next 15 to 35 years, the Blueprint said, with the WA portions of the Bight basin potentially among them.

With the marine environment of the Southern Ocean likely to present very different physical and biological marine science challenges to those in the north of the State, additional research would be needed.

Representatives of Santos, Apache, Shell, Chevron, Woodside, INPEX, ConocoPhillips and BHP Billiton, as well as from RPS Metocean, DOF Subsea, Wood Group Kenny, APPEA, NOPSEMA, the CSIRO and the Pilbara Ports Authority were consulted for the blueprint.