Impacts of exploratory drilling for oil and gas on the benthic environment of Georges Bank

Marine Environmental Research
By: , and 

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Abstract

A 3-year monitoring program was performed to assess the impacts of exploratory drilling for oil and gas on the benthic environment of Georges Bank, an important commercial fishery region in the North Atlantic east of Massachusetts, USA. Surficial sediments were sampled for chemical and benthic infaunal analysis and bottom still photographs were taken to document bottom microtopography and epifauna at 46 stations during 12 field surveys. The surveys were performed quarterly from just before drilling began, during drilling, and for nearly 2 years after completion of drilling. Two of the eight drilling sites were selected for monitoring. Twenty-nine stations were positioned in a tight radial array around a drilling site in 80 m of water. A second group of three stations was positioned near another drilling site in 140 m of water. The remaining stations covered a broad expanse of the Bank and adjacent suspected sites of deposition of fine-grained sediments.\

 

Of the 12 elements analyzed in bulk sediments, only barium increased in concentration during the period when drilling was taking place (July 1981 to September 1982). The concentration of barium in surficial sediment increased 4·7-fold from 28 ppm before drilling to 131·7 ppm after drilling at the station closest to the drilling site in 80 m of water and 5·9-fold from 32 ppm before drilling to 172 ppm after drilling at the station closest to the drilling site in 140 m of water. The concentrations of both barium and chromium increased in the fine (silt/clay) fraction (usually less than 5% by weight of sediment from most stations) of sediments from several stations around one or both rig sites monitored during the period of drilling. Elevated concentrations of chromium (about two-fold) occurred only in sediments near the drilling site in 140 m of water. Statistically significant increases in the concentration of barium in the fine fraction to sediment were detected approximately 65 km west (downcurrent) and 35 km east of the drilling site in 80 m of water after drilling was completed.

 

The benthic fauna were abundant and diverse throughout the study area. At most stations, the dominant species remained nearly the same from one season to another over the 3 years of sampling. Polychaetes were the most abundant, followed by crustaceans. The number of individuals of some species, particularly the amphipods Erichthonius fasciatus and Unciola inermis, showed large seasonal variations.

 

Cluster analysis revealed a strong relationship between community structure and both sediment type and water depth. Little seasonal variation was detected, but some interannual differences were revealed by cluster analysis and correspondence analysis. The replicates from a station always resembled each other more than they resembled any replicates from other stations. In addition, the combined replicates from a station always clustered with samples from that station taken on other cruises. This excellent replication and uniformity of the benthic infaunal community at a station over time made it possible to detect very subtle changes in community parameters that might be related to discharges of drilling fluid and drill cuttings. Nevertheless, no changes were detected in benthic communities of Georges Bank that could be attributed to drilling activities.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Impacts of exploratory drilling for oil and gas on the benthic environment of Georges Bank
Series title Marine Environmental Research
DOI 10.1016/0141-1136(89)90002-0
Volume 27
Issue 2
Year Published 1989
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Coastal and Marine Geology Program
Description 38 p.
First page 77
Last page 114
Country United States
State Massachusetts
Other Geospatial Georges Bank
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N