Title:
Environmental Surveys and MarESA for Block 6 Oil and Gas Explorations – Cronos prospect area, EEZ Cyprus

Duration:
ca 1 year (November 2022 – November 2023)

Funded by:
ENI Cyprus Ltd.

Subcontracted by the joint venture:
HPC AG
Nicolaides & Associates Ltd
Pro Iter Ambiente S.r.l.
TEA Sistemi S.p.A.

Project Description:
ENI announced significant gas discoveries in Block 6 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), located 160 km off the Cyprus coastline and at a water depth of over 2000 meters. To assess and mitigate the environmental impacts of oil and gas exploration activities, MER was contracted and participated in an extensive environmental survey project in the Greater Cronos Area, centering around the Offshore Environmental Baseline Survey (EBS) at Cronos-2 and Greater Cronos Area and post-drill monitoring activities (EMS) at Cronos-1 and Zeus-1 well sites.

Geophysical and Environmental Field Work:

  • Duration: The project’s field work spanned over two months, divided into two phases. Phase 1 focused on geophysical surveys, with MER responsible for detecting important conservation features using Side Scan Sonar mosaics and supervising ROV surveys. Phase 2 involved detailed environmental sampling of water, sediment, physico-chemical and biological parameters.
  • Specialized Personnel: For the entire duration of the surveys, an international team of multi-disciplinary experts operated on-board. MER provided one specialist for SSS/ROV Environmental Supervision during Phase 1, and four specialists in Phase 2, which included three Sampling Operators and one Environmental Supervisor. In total, 10 MER researchers participated in the sampling activities, operating in shifts.
  • Sampling Methodology: The team utilized various tools such as Rosette sampler equipped with Niskin bottles, CTD, box corer, and plankton nets. MER specialists supervised the collection and preparation of water, plankton, sediments, and benthos samples, following SoW specifications.

 

Data Analysis and Reporting:

  • Biological Analysis: The collected samples were transported to the MER laboratory for detailed analysis, including phytoplankton and zooplankton in seawater samples and macrofauna analysis in sediment samples. Indicatively, 244 macrofauna samples were collected, processed, analyzed, and reported with high quality in less than two months. This demonstrates the significant capacity of our laboratory to conduct relevant work activities in a prompt and efficient manner.
  • Biological Indicators: Key biological indicators like species richness, diversity indices, and the presence of specific sensitive or indicator species, crucial for assessing the health and status of the marine ecosystem were utilized.
  • Statistical Analysis: The project incorporated multivariate statistical analyses, such as cluster analysis, similarity profile (SIMPROF), non-metric multidimensional scaling (nMDS), and permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA). These techniques were crucial for interpreting complex ecological data and identifying patterns in species distribution and environmental impacts. For the EMS sites, statistical analyses were conducted to compare results before and after drilling activities, as well as between locations and control versus impacted sites.
  • ROV surveys: The collected ROV footage was thoroughly analysed, and species and features of conservation interest were identified.
  • Reporting: The environmental monitoring results were compiled into stand-alone reports, which were integrated as sections within the Environmental, Social, and Health Impact Assessment (ESHIA) reports.

 

MarESA Study Integration:

MER conducted a Marine Evidence based Sensitivity Assessment (MarESA) Study for Cronos-2 drilling operations. The MarESA approach involves a systematic process to assess the sensitivity of marine species or habitats to environmental pressures. This method includes literature reviews, defining key elements of the feature, assessing the feature’s resistance and resilience, and deriving an overall sensitivity score. The sensitivity is determined by the likelihood of damage due to a pressure (resistance) and the rate of recovery after the pressure is removed (resilience). MarESA helps understand how marine life is affected by human activities and natural events, providing a framework for the sustainable management of marine resources​​. A comprehensive literature review was conducted for the MarESA study. Sensitivity assessments focused on conservation features identified during baseline surveys and extended to a precautionary assessment of potential impacts on species and habitats detected in the wider Levantine region.

Marine Mammal Observations (MMO):

On different occasions, MER provided MMO services for daily cetacean and megafauna monitoring during the seismic survey activities at Zeus 1 – well in Block 6, located in the Levantine Basin. This service included daylight visual monitoring and assistance to acoustic observations by Passive Acoustic Monitors (PAMs). Equipped with specialized tools and adhering to ACCOBAMS and UNEP/CMS guidelines, the team conducted continuous monitoring, focusing on cetaceans and other marine fauna, and provided mitigation recommendations as needed. The key deliverables from this service were daily monitoring logs, detailed sighting reports, and a comprehensive final report in accordance with JNCC and ACCOBAMS guidelines.

This comprehensive assessment was designed to provide a thorough ecological understanding of the Greater Cronos Area, emphasizing responsible environmental management in offshore exploration activities.