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Bohol Sunday Post
June 24, 2007

A noted geologist based in Dumaguete City said that seismic airgun noise can be as high as 225 decibels the equivalent intensity of a seafloor volcanic eruption.

The planned seismic survey in the seawaters off Cebu and Bohol will be using airguns as the survey vessel scours the seas of possible oil and natural gas deposits.

The seismic activity in the Bohol side was deferred pending further consultations from affected stakeholders particularly marginal fishermen.

The opinion of Dr. Angel Alcala, a geologist cum environmentalist was sought by lawyer Raul Barbarona, president of the Bohol Alliance of Non-Government Organizations which is in the forefront of scrutinizing the activities of MV Pacific Sword, the seismic vessel commissioned by the Department of Energy and NorAsia Energy Ltd. to undertake the oil ex-ploration activity in the Cebu-Bohol Strait.

Dr. Alcala,s finding was based on his own research of natural and manmade sounds in the ocean as presented by the Federation of American Scientists regarding sounds related to marine activity.

The geologist said with the airgun sound which is equivalent to a volcanic eruption in the sea bed a human and a fish swimming in the water would get significantly deaf or damaged by this noise since sound travelling in water produces more pressure and damage than in air.

He said since seismic surveys are conducted using a systematic explosion of airguns based on a pre-determined survey grid, it is not a low-impact activity and it significantly affects marine life.

At the same time, Alcala reacted to a statement made by Energy Regional Director Antonio Labios that the effect of seismic survey in the Bohol Sea would be only "at a very minimal and insignificant level.

Refuting Labios' statement, Alcala said this assumption is questionable and based only on his own opinion.

The same was true with another Labios' remarks that passenger fast crafts passing Cebu-Bohol strait produce 220 decibels. He said the same statement is highly questionable and not based on fact. Alcala's table showed that the loudest noise from large supertankers and container ships would only be 198 decibels.

Therefore, Alcala said, fast crafts would only produce a fraction of that level.

Alcala also explained that even the low-decibel result of slapping canoe paddles on the surface of the water scares most fish within 20 meters that they all flee towards the direction opposite the noise and get caught by a strategically positioned fish net set up by the fishermen.

Meanwhile, groups opposed to the oil and natural gas exploration between southern Cebu and Bohol are seeking an injunction from the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in this city.

The 13 complainants, through lawyer Barbarona, are asking the court to declare null and void the certificate of non-coverage that Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) 7 issued to NorAsian Energy Ltd.

They are also seeking the same declaration against the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between EMB and NorAsian streamlining the environmental impact system process, aside from the immediate issuance of a temporary restraining order.

But Department of Energy (DOE) 7 Director Labios downplayed the petition. DOE is also named as respondent in the complaint.

Low impact

"It is just a low impact and is not long-term," he said.

The survey in the southern Cebu side started last Monday and will be finished in 10 days.

Some of the affected fishermen in the towns of Argao and Sibonga were compensated for their damaged "payaw" or fish pen and loss of income in the 10-day period.

The final list of fishermen was to be submitted by the municipal mayors to NorAsian yesterday.

Kristoffer Fellows, the Australian firm's chief executive officer, refused to comment on the complaint.

But he said they won't stop the survey unless told by the DOE because they have an agreement stipulated in the certificate of non-coverage, and a contract with the Philippine Government to comply.

"We have surveys and exploration in other countries. We have one in Alaska and we always follow stringent measures and we (did not) get negative feedbacks," he said in a mobile phone interview with Sun.Star Cebu.

The survey may have an impact on the environment, he said, but it is incorrect to say that it could kill marine mammals and other underwater life.

Respondents

Named respondents in the petition were DOE Secretary Rafael Lotilla, NorAsian chairman Rufino Bomasang and EMB 7 Director Alan Arranguez.

The petition sought to prohibit the respondents from conducting the seismic surveys in the identified areas.

It also asks the court to direct Arranguez to enforce the environmental impact system law by requiring NorAsian to secure an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) after conducting an environment impact assessment.

Barbarona who is also executive director of Environmental Legal Assistance Center (Elac) and counsel for the petitioners, said it is true that the courts are not allowed to rule on matters that could disturb the smooth function of the administrative machinery.

"But on issues definitely outside of this dimension, and involving questions of law, courts are not prevented by PD (Presidential Decree) 605 from exercising their power to restrain or prohibit administrative acts," the petition read, citing a court ruling on Heherson Alvarez vs. Picop Resources Inc.

Standards

Barbarona said international standards of the level of sound created underwater should not exceed 180 decibel, otherwise it can be adverse to marine life.

He said a seismic survey could produce 200 to 260 decibels, which could kill marine mammals and other life forms.

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