Early planning in offshore Indonesia

BP’s approach to early screening for potential impacts on communities and the environment has helped to shape our actions in West Aru

Three months before BP decided to bid for two deepwater oil and gas exploration licences in a remote part of the Arafura Sea off the coast of Indonesia, our upstream environmental and social teams were working with regional colleagues to compile information about the area.

This was a new area of exploration for us. As such, our environmental and social practices, which are part of our operating management system, require that we identify any potential impacts to the local environment or community and build mitigating actions into our plans as they develop.

Results of the initial screening

The screening team identified several environmental and social considerations associated with the West Aru exploration blocks. These included potential challenges in getting oil spill response teams and equipment to such a remote area, in the event of an oil spill during the work. 

The team also identified four protected areas within about 180 kilometres off the blocks – one marine environment off Aru Island and three land-based reserves in the Tanimbar Islands group – too far for them to be directly affected by exploration work, and unlikely to be within range of potential indirect impacts.

They considered possible impacts of future oil and gas activities on island communities, including indigenous populations, and the ways in which the project might interact with ships passing through the block, as there is a major shipping route in the area. 

They identified 27 species of marine mammals that had been seen in or were thought to use waters around the exploration blocks, including four classed as threatened or near threatened. 

The team then identified actions to mitigate the most significant environmental and social impacts and risks, such as gradually building up power in the airguns used during seismic surveys to reduce disturbance to marine mammals, and agreeing an oil spill response plan with the seismic contractor. 

After reviewing the results of the screening and the mitigating actions, BP’s senior leaders gave the go-ahead for a bid.

Reducing impacts during seismic work

In 2013, around a year and half after BP was awarded licences to explore in the West Aru blocks, we carried out a second environmental and social screening in preparation for seismic activity. This second evaluation supported previous findings and provided additional detail, which we used to plan this phase of the project.

Much of the post-licence screening focused on oil spill preparedness and response. Teams used modelling techniques to better understand how quickly and how far oil might travel if an unplanned release were to occur during the seismic work. 

For example, the project planned to operate seismic vessels within about 20 kilometres of the Palau Larat nature reserve, a sensitive environment protected under Indonesian law. Among other steps to minimize potential impacts, seismic vessels that run on marine diesel were selected, because this type of oil breaks down more quickly than heavy oil, in the event of a spill. Spill response equipment was made available on the seismic contractor’s supply vessel, with back-up support in place in onshore Indonesia and in Singapore, in case it was needed. 

A marine mammal observer joined the seismic crew on board one of the vessels to monitor any potential encounters with whales or other marine mammals. 

BP also informed the Indonesian government’s marine authorities of its survey plans so that they could notify other marine users, including fishing and shipping companies.

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