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Listening to the Landscape: community responses to oil and gas noise
 

Listening to the Landscape: community responses to oil and gas noise

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This plenary presentation at the Alberta oil and gas industry 2007 Spring Noise Conference was clearly out of the ordinary, but got a good response (including an invite to return in 2009). While ...

This plenary presentation at the Alberta oil and gas industry 2007 Spring Noise Conference was clearly out of the ordinary, but got a good response (including an invite to return in 2009). While Alberta has strong noise regs, the presentation addressed the fact that when industrial noise is the loudest component in a quiet soundscape, neighbors ' experiences need to be considered--reliance on dB-level limits is not enough. A key part of the presentation looks at the evolution of the rural soundscape over the past three generations, the changing nature and context of human-made sound, and the natural changes in people's reactions to these changing noise sources.

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  • Hi everyone. At the Acoustic Ecology Institute, we don’t do field work or research, so in that respect you all are the experts, compared to me. AEI is a resource and information center for the press and public, and to some degree for agency staff. I’m also in close touch with many field researchers and some in industry, and I do some classroom programs. I try to present what is known about various sound-related environmental issues in a way that is pretty straightforward, with a minimum of spin. AEI is definitely not an advocacy group, though I do lean toward being mindful about humanity’s tendency to make a lot of noise with little real consideration of its effects. I hope that what have to share isn’t too naïve about what is possible, or too disrespectful of all you ARE doing to address noise issues. I know more now than I did coming in about how you all are addressing these issues; I was especially struck by Dave’s and Anita’s papers yesterday, which looked at annoyance due to sound from useful perspectives. I hope you’ll take these thoughts as just more fodder from which to cultivate your ongoing efforts. Those of us in acoustic ecology tend to put an emphasis on the experiential, and I think you’ll hear me do that here today; to build on Dave’s thoughts, I am going to stress the psychological elements of annoyance, as well as some wildlife impacts. My main message is that while the current regulations do a great job of addressing the technical aspects of noise impacts, it may be necessary to go beyond the simple dB thresholds in order to address the real human impacts, and that doing so could serve the industry in the long run, as the region’s energy footprint continues to expand. What I’m hoping to do here at the end of these days together, is to draw us out from the little rooms and the projection screens and the numbers and the technologies, and bring us back out into the landscape where all this is being implemented. As we integrate the new information and ideas that have come out of this conference, I am going to push a bit, gently and respectfully I hope, toward the ideal of cultivating an approach to oil and gas development that truly takes into consideration the ACOUSTIC EXPERIENCE of those living in this landscape, both human and animal.
  • We begin with the obvious, the reality that this region WILL continue to be developed: Market demands, combined with the available infrastructure and development capacity in place, make Alberta a prime region for satisfying future energy needs . Within this near imperative to develop, though, there is plenty of room to choose how to act.
  • Quite naturally, as energy development continues to move into areas closer to human habitation and deeper into wild places, conflicts are on the increase. The industrialization of landscapes and the introduction of noise sources that are louder or more constant than residents are used to, can serve as a trigger point, a specific irritant, that leads to increased complaints.
  • Most centrally, noise is different than other impacts in that we cannot “look away” or “tune it out” as easily as we can visual, or even economic, impacts. We have no earlids, sound follows us indoors, around corners. Because of this, it can also be a reminder that provokes our sense of powerlessness to prevent intrusions into our lives.
  • I am going to explore some of the qualities of the changing soundscape that may be both contributing to resistance and friction between industry and residents, and also the ways that subtle but significant changes of approach by industry and regulators could lead to better relations, as well as a long-term legacy that serves the landscape as a whole.
  • My sense is that most people are willing to accept that energy development is an integral part of this landscape. All they really want in return is to be treated with respect, and for industry to give consideration to the effects it has on people, livestock, and wildlife. And by consideration, I don’t mean simply giving it some thought or designing regulations that address the effects of noise: I mean something more real, more specific, perhaps more caring: to truly take in, accept, and have real empathy for the stories you hear from those affected by noise. Maybe you can see how this is an active thing: you GIVE consideration TO people. I realize that the current regulatory regime is designed to do this. But for at least some residents (who tend to become the most vocal), business as usual does not meet their needs for engagement in the process. In short, mere numbers and measurement systems do not really address the subjective experience of that many people have. I know that there are practical, and legal, reasons to rely on absolute measurable data. Nevertheless, I am going to suggest that there are times to set aside our models and our established ways of dealing with the public, and consider a bigger picture, one that encompasses the ways that rural soundscapes have changed over the past few generations, and the real experiences we hear in the subjective responses of residents.
  • Some simple changes to the way that projects are planned, the ways that local residents are consulted with, and the role of the EUB could create some radical changes in both relations with the public, and conservation of landscapes for the future.
  • The imperatives that are driving the increased development of Alberta’s energy resources are clear. But how will that development progress, and how will it take in to account its impacts, including noise impacts?
  • You all are are the last bunch that need to be told what’s going on in the field, so we’ll just zip through the obvious:
  • Coalbed methane, including easy to develop dry fields (the envy of companies south of the border), is a small proportion of total production, but is causing a disproportionate stir among the public, due to the density of wells and the new acoustic intrusion of compressor stations.
  • The development of Alberta’s oil sands fields is bringing a level of industrialization of landscape that has triggered an unsurprising resistance among environmental advocates. There are fears that it will be as devastating or worse than the mountaintop removal going on in Appalachia, and unless concerns about comprehensive planning are addressed soon, tensions will continue to mount. The Canadian Boreal Initiative is headed in this direction, if it can be implemented in a way that keeps pace with development pressures.
  • Natural gas, long the foundation of Alberta’s energy industry, remains central.
  • Directive 38 provides a clear framework for modeling and assessing the noise impacts of new development, including sensible variation in standards based on the remoteness of the site, as measured by distance from roads and numbers of dwellings. As reasonable as Directive 38 may be, I am going to suggest that there are also times when we may need to move beyond reliance on strict dB readings or sound propagation models, and deal directly with the actual experience of those affected by industry noise.
  • Since I am here today, giving the last plenary talk of our week together, I’d like to ask you to reflect on what you’ve learned here, and to follow me now as I evoke the landscape, both natural and human, in which all we’ve gathered here will be given its chance to work in the world. Learned about impacts Explored the latest in best practices Shared perspectives with others Established new relationships But as rich an experience as this has been, especially given the opulent setting here at Banff, let us not forget that a far richer experience awaits us when we return to the field…..
  • Let us remember the landscape in which all we’ve learned will be implemented. And, let us appreciate the soundscapes that fill these landscapes where development is taking place. Not the least of which are the soundscapes of rural life.
  • The experience that people have of their home places can not always be adequately accounted for by dispassionate numbers. If you were in this place, at the time this picture was taken, I’m quite sure that a 38dB CBM compressor would feel rather invasive.
  • By and large, the people who have spoken up about the noise impacts of oil and gas development are folks with long family histories on the land, people who generally live and let live. When such people decide that they need to say something, it usually bears listening to.
  • People live in the local soundscape every day. The unblemished sounds of the land--wind, water, birds, coyote, foxes, bobcat--nourish our souls. This can take many forms. City people roam away from town, seeking the solace of open space. Rural people work outdoors all day, immersed in the land that they are working. Their lives are shaped by the land around them: (play sound cut, memories) Such bonds with the land are a foundation of life in rural communities. While there is room in our responses to accept some outside noise, there are thresholds past which it is much harder to remain undisturbed.
  • Now I’m going to address a few of the specific ways that noise is becoming a trigger point for concerns, for both wildlife and humans. These are the contexts in which industry and regulators are working to fulfill their goals of minimizing the effects of development.
  • Landscapes are integral wholes, bodies with many parts, all of which need to remain in relation and communication with each other. Within any habitat, a rich web of acoustic communication is taking place. Very often, animals need to be able to hear and be heard over long distances; it is common that the faintest calls are as important as nearby ones. A background hum of compressors or the sporadic intrusions of truck traffic can disrupt these subtle networks of communication. This is not to say that development should not take place; rather, that there are many biological and historical reasons that we may want to be sure to respect the landscapes enough to leave large patches relatively untouched.
  • There are many ways that noise impacts wildlife
  • One of the more descriptive theories to emerge from bioacoustics is the idea of “acoustic niches.” Popularized by Bernie Krause, the idea is that the overall sonic chorus in any place is broken into distinct frequency and time “niches”, each of which is filled by a different animal, so that the many voices do not overlap and interfere with each other. When combined with the fact that animals’ hearing tends also to focus especially on the frequencies they use to vocalize, this allows animals to hear their own kind even when other species are calling at the same time. A secondary feature of acoustic niches is that it allows animals to hear faint, distant calls of their own species. Natural sound recordists typically wear headphones when recording, and their equipment picks up a much richer soundscape than is heard by the “naked ear.” While we might think that such amplification is artificial, it actually approximates the much finer hearing ability of the animals themselves. Even when we may not hear anything, or only a few very faint voices, it is often the case that the acoustic niches are actually much more densely populated than we would imagine.
  • Masking is an acoustic phenomenon that occurs when the sounds an animal is trying to hear are in roughly the same frequency range as another, louder sound. Likewise, the presence of predators can be masked by outside noise. This is likely to be an issue in areas with relatively heavy industrialization, such as the oil sands patches. When designing wildlife corridors, it would be crucial that they are large enough to have a fairly wide swath that is free of noise intrusions from the development, so that animals can communicate over natural distances. CLICK SOUND And, there are some sounds everyone wants to be sure they hear…..
  • By far the most widespread impact of human noise, and likely the one that has the most detrimental effect on animals, is increased stress. Shifting into alert mode, and then often moving away from the intrusion, uses precious energy; but more insidious is the well documented effects that increased stress has on overall health. Resistance to toxins is reduced; the ability to weather food shortages is compromised; often, fertility and reproductive success is lowered. Again, this calls for special care to be taken to provide substantial noise-free areas, and to mitigate noise where development takes place in key wildlife habitat.
  • Can we leave enough room for wildlife? Prairie dogs villages have a property only recent discovered: the large systems of tunnels act as low-frequency amplifiers. Low rumbles of traffic (or perhaps compressors) are louder INSIDE the tunnels than at the surface. The implications of this new awareness have yet to be investigated. The world of animal communication and sensitivity to sound is full of similarly barely-noticed, and undoubtedly many un-noticed, phenomena. A basic respect for other creatures demands that we proceed with care as our noise-making threatens to engulf entire landscapes.
  • What about human responses to the noises associated with development?
  • Certainly a large proportion of Albertans accept energy development as part of the landscape, and soundscape, of this place. The added income that comes from energy installations is a welcome and needed element of the modern ranching economy. And, in many cases, oil and gas installations are very low impact over the long haul.
  • For many others, the added traffic and construction noise is accepted as a part of rural life in the region. In most cases, the noise is intermittent or temporary, and while it may not be listened to with pleasure, there is an easy tolerance for it.
  • For others, though, oil and gas installations can become a persistent irritation, daily reminders of a loss they cannot make peace with.
  • Discomfort can build, as the very core of one’s reason for choosing the life one has is challenged by the changes in the landscape. Quote is from Peter Lauridson.
  • What tends to cause special irritation are dramatic, new additions to the local soundscape. Towns have always had loud sounds, but when a previously sleepy town has trucks roaring through at all hours of the day, the very nature of the place is changed. Here’s a classic small town soundmark, the local church bells; its something the locals have an emotional connection with With increased traffic, the resonance is really shifted: (church bells; bells and truck)
  • We really cannot understate the pivotal role that CBM compressor stations play in the changing social response to industrial noise. When added to the density of CBM well pads, it really has become the straw that broke many a rural resident’s back.
  • The hardest part for them is the sense that no one is willing to accept that these new noises are truly intolerable for them.
  • Fiona Lauridsen was taken aback by the changes to her experience after CBM wells began filling the prairie around her home: “ I don’t have all the city amenities, but I had quiet, space, and peace. Now I don’t have that.”
  • I want to turn now for a few moments to some reflections on how the soundscape has changed over the past fifty or hundred years, because I think that noticing the progression of human, and especially engine, noise, is a real clue to today’s growing resistance.
  • Of course, in the early days, the soundscape was dominated by the winds, the weather, the birds, along with livestock moving about, chewing and calling, and the nearly organic sounds of creaking cartwheels and steel plows churning through the soil. A couple of recollections of those soundcapes: Saskatchewan novelist WO Mitchell: “His ears were filled with the sound of the wind, singing fierce and lost and lonely, rising and rising again, shearing high and higher still, singing vibrance in a void, forever and forever wild…” CA Kenaston, though, in The Great Plains of Canada, addressed the windless times: “When, also, nature is undisturbed in tranquil summer mood, and the sky is blue and flecked with fleecy clouds floating far aloft, all sound seems to have died out of the world, and the mantle of silence enfolds everything. Partaking of the predominant natural sentiment, man becomes silent, also; he ceases to talk to his mates and becomes moody and taciturn.” ======= had quite a different experience of powerful prairie winds, which he said were “comparatively inaudible, for there are no waters to dash, no forests to roar, no surfaces to resound, while the short grasses give forth no perceptible rustle, and there is something awful in the titanic rush of contending natural forces which you can feel, but cannot see or hear. The wind may sweep away your breath on a current of sixty miles an hour, and the clouds may rush through the sky as in a tornado, but no sounds confound the ear……
  • During the twentieth century, the work life of ranching and farming families began to include more and more motors. Daily life involved increasingly more immersion in the sounds of engines. Ploughing, harvesting, feeding, and going to town all took place within a new cocoon of noise. This noise, however, was by and large easily accepted. While some may have resented the new intrusions, and perhaps would have chuckled in recognition when Murray Schafer said, much later, that “the best I can say of the automobile is that the sound it resembles most is the fart,” for the vast majority of rural residents, the benefits in labor saved made the sound of these new machines music to their ears.
  • At the same time, these new vehicles moved from the farmyard and ranch headquarters and began to join horses and wagons on the roadways between remote farms and ranches and local town centers Still, when a vehicle passed by, even if it was not related to the farm or ranch itself, it was likely a friend or neighbor going about their very similar business, so that the noise intrusion had a content, a context that was still part of the individual’s experience and the life of the community. Indeed, in the middle years of the last century, a farmer would be likely to pause and watch the passing of a truck on the road; more likely than not, it would slow and a chance to catch up with a neighbor would be at hand. Before long, the sounds of mechanization were travelling along a network of roads and railways that pierced the quiet distances between settlements. Gradually, rural residents began to experience the “intrusion” of outside noise, not related to their own or their neighbor’s work; still, though, the traffic that moved between settlements was largely serving the needs of the communities: bringing in supplies, taking out local products. Only in the last generation have the highways become such long-distance thoroughfares that their noise approaches something close to constant, with most passing traffic having little direct relation to the community. Think for a moment of how this is a different experience; the “outside world” buzzing in the background, or even foreground, of what used to be a remote, insular place.
  • I do believe that the key thing is that is different is that much of the noise is no longer related to the daily lives of residents. Work crews show up in what they consider to be “their” fields, and though they pass through, it is a radical divergence to simply have anything going on out there that is not under the direction of the rancher and his family. Truck traffic through towns plays into this: we can’t avoid the fact that big trucks with jake brakes create an entirely different sonic presence than farm trucks, one that can far more easily penetrate the walls of a house and become an nuisance or even a physical impact with its vibrations. While establishing patterns of truck traffic could be difficult or even impossible, it’s crucial to recognize that it IS a significant change, and one with negative consequences.
  • Certainly the relentless quality of some noise, especially compressor stations, is an entirely new dimension of experience.
  • Also, the sprawling webs of well pad roads or ever-expanding oil sands pits surely leaves the landscape itself scarred in a way that is really very new in the past decade or so. Especially for people whose very identities are inseparable from the land, and more importantly, from an embedded respect for the landscape and all it offers to to support them and their families and livestock, this industrialization of the landscape itself is a jarring experience.
  • All this leads to the place that everyone is really aiming for: caring for the land. This is a shared value that could be even more vigorously pursued as a foundation for energy development and regulation.
  • So, what is the Agency/Industry Response to the changing nature of sound impacts in recent years? Development and application of best practices Communications with public Cumulative impacts analysis I know you are doing all these things; but I want to suggest that all of these could be done with an even more explicit commitment to respect and active consideration for the experience of neighbors and the wild landscape.
  • There are some questions that arise as we seek this balance: Sometimes there seems to be a presumptive right to develop resource? How much is enough? How close is too close? Reasonable limits?
  • A key in any conflict is to zero in on values that are shared by everyone. I am going to keep pounding these two key values, ones I know we all believe in: Respect and consideration. From this foundation, we can fulfill our desire to care for the land and for the social bonds of those who live here, WHILE making use of what the landscape offers us, including energy resources A big part of this is accepting and working with the fact that a given sound will have a different effect in different places, and on different people. This is a place where it can be important to see the framework of models and dB threshold levels could be used as a starting point, rather than The Final Word. If we can look past these concrete frameworks, we can give more authentic consideration to what we hear from individuals and communities.
  • This respect begins with recognizing the core experiences that rural communities want to maintain. How can we be sure that energy development is seen a respectful visitor, rather than an outside imposition? Don’t have answer here, but want to acknowledge the question and encourage ever deeper exploration along these lines over time
  • Looking at the natural world, conservation biology provides us with a way of looking at, and thinking about, our footprint on the landscape. Rather than try to mitigate and moderate our impacts on the whole landscape, conservation biology suggests that the needs of wildlife for open space, and the needs of humans for development, can be better satisfied by stepping back and creating a comprehensive system of inter-connected wild places, in order to maintain the vitality of landscape and populations so that other areas can be devoted to resource development. Looking at Alberta’s landscape, the idea is that large core areas would preserve the ecological integrity of each of the key habitats or landscapes in the province: mountain, foothills, prairie, boreal forest, etc. Throughout the province, these core areas would provide a web of thriving habitats, around and between which most of the land is used in blended, multiple use ways, much as ranch land is today. XXXX
  • And, we can feel more comfortable devoting rather expansive areas to industrial development, such as oil sands, if we have also provided enough land to assure that, once the industrial period is done, the plant and animal communities will endure. This means that development does not need to tip-toe around to avoid impacting nearby wildlife; if we know that thriving populations and integral interconnected habitat remains nearby, then the industrial impacts on some areas is far more palatable. Such really engaged comprehensive planning is essential to both the survival of the landscape and peaceful co-existence with human communities that are rooted here, and will be here after the few decades of energy development are complete. XXXXX
  • It seems that it can often feel to residents that the EUB and the industry does its best to be sure everything fits within the box of the numbers, rather than really working with them to avoid problems. Having a reactive approach to issues that crop up is expensive and frustrating for everyone. Perhaps it can be worth it in the long run to go beyond the letter of the regulations. To do this, of course, will take initiative from the industry itself. There are many opportunities to learn from past experiences, and chart a course that can diffuse much of the resentment that is building up. You might think: “there really are very few complaints”; I’ve seen numbers in the range of 20 complaints in 2006, out of 3000 CBM wells put in. But don’t be lulled by these numbers. First off, it would be good to know what proportion of CBM compressors spurred complaints. But beyond that, consider the analogy of the ways that the staff of politicians make sense of the comments they receive; every one counts for many many more constituents who have similar views, but did not or could not take the time to write. Most people, especially in a province with such a dominant industry as this, either feel it’s out of their control, or are reticent to raise a stink (perhaps because they work in the patch). Those who do complain are not oddballs or troublemakers (necessarily), rather, they are providing a valuable sampling of the ways that many others likely feel. XXXXX
  • By responding more readily to these complaints, making the process less cumbersome, and taking proactive measures to reduce similar complaints in the future, you can shift the dynamics and find the road toward further, similarly sensitive, development, far more open. Most specifically, if industry works to really minimize or eliminate noise impacts on town and residences, going beyond the 5dB above ambient to aim for inaudibility, this can really pay off in the long run. Yes, it is likely to mean, the establishment of larger buffer areas around residences or areas important to livestock or wildlife. But if you really consider the big picture of energy reserves available in Alberta, giving a little more space than current practice requires, both sonic space and general intrusion into lives, would not be the end of the world for the industry. It might even be the beginning of a future world of energy development that is both far more acceptable to communities where you are working, and the construction of a legacy that the industry can be proud of when your grandchildren look back on these years. XXXXXX
  • I’m noticing that all week we’ve been talking about noise, but not listening to any of the things we’re talking about. We haven’t once heard the sounds that are the object of the conference: compressors, jake brakes, flaring, drilling, or processing. Even bringing recordings into these rooms would be fairly irrelevant, for we are discussing the effects of the sounds out there in the field. I want to ask you to try to bring your experience of some of these sounds back….remember what you’ve heard out in the field…..
  • … .and I also want to suggest that what YOU consider an insignificant or acceptable sound, someone else (especially someone who lives with it), may experience very differently. Even if it falls within or under your threshold of acceptable noise, it may truly be an irritant. If it IS a sore spot for those living with it, whether humans, livestock, or wildlife, what is your responsibility? --to tell them it’s no big deal because the numbers look good? --to make them work it out with the company? --to try to reduce the noise to the best of your ability? --take this experience and incorporate new proactive policies to help assure others won’t repeat the experience? “ Can’t they leave ten square miles around Rosebud alone?,” said a local businesswoman, “Will natural gas be the only industry left in Alberta?” Even the EUB acknowledges, in a recent annual report that Alberta faces “some interesting, almost contradictory challenges” XXXXXX
  • But I want to suggest that they are not contradictory, if there is a willingness to work more proactively to prevent conflicts, rather than just dealing with them as they arise. This proactive approach provides the opportunity for Alberta’s industry and regulators to take on their part in dealing with what Anita discussed yesterday, the global acknowledgement that noise is a serious and growing public issue. It also provides a chance to move forward into the coming period of an inevitably larger footprint on the land, including a larger sonic impact, in a way that does more than just identify that noise impacts are both technical and social--being proactive accepts the reality of the social aspect. The current standards address all the technical aspects, including in most cases protecting nighttime sleep, but as Dave laid out, there are other subjective, personally variable factors that the regs simply don’t address, and that too often are met with a sense that there’s nothing that can be done to account for these individual responses. To become truly proactive, what we--what you--will need to do is to listen not as noise consultants with your meters in hand, or as regulators with Directive 38 handy, or as industry reps trying to figure out how to meet the standards. Rather, you will need to listen as residents, taking to heart some of the factors I’ve mentioned today, and accept that the road to more comfortable acceptance may involve adapting your operations to meet not just technical standards but also the very real experiential needs of both people and wildlife…..
  • A key appraoch to istening as a resident includes paying attention to the sounds of place that are important to them, and how disruption of these sounds by new development affects them. (As Hildegard said Wednesday?), soundmark is a term coined in the 1970s by acoustic ecology researchers. These are the sounds that people associate with their home places: natural sounds, sounds around the home, and community sounds. Among the soundmarks of rural life in Alberta that residents have said they’ve lost the ability to hear because of compressor noise, even at or below the “acceptable” level, are: --the calls of meadowlarks and frogs, whose sound lost its music in the background hum of the compressor--the calls were muddied (likely lost some high end clarity) --owl wings swooping over almost silently in the night. --feisty interactions of aggressive goldfinches, whose population density went way down --the river a few hundred meters away, the water’s rush, and even boulders being tumbled during high water --subtle song and conversation of redpolls in winter, who totally disappeared for several years, But don’t despair--these last two returned after attenuation was added! State of the art attenuation really does make a huge difference in the experience of those nearby.
  • And, in the wild, too, we should listen as an animal might. Avoidance of noise by wildlife is a real thing; it cannot be ignored simply because no one is making money from the critters. Actually, some people DO make money on them, as outfitters for wilderness expeditions. They report that traffic to maintain both CBM and conventional wells is driving moose from several hundred square kilometers into areas too small for them to share successfully. And, in oil sands development districts, there’s a pressing biological need for real, substantial wildlife corridors. Not corridors that you can practically see across, but corridors several kilometers wide, so that there is a real sonic refuge through which skittish wild creatures can travel.
  • Having listened from the perspective of those living where we work, what can we do with this awareness? From an acoustic perspective, there are easy things that could be done to accommodate the needs of landowners, livestock, and wildlife to protect their acoustic space, with a goal of being as inaudible as possible, so as to address those psychological annoyance issues; if we can do this, then it is likely that future opportunities will be able to be pursued with far less tension and conflict. A key one is to use topography wisely. I’ve heard reports of compressors being sited both very well, and with little forethought: putting them in low spots can very effectively reduce sound transmission; conversely, when sited in a valley with hills rising beyond, it can create an amphitheater that bounces the sound far across the landscape. At this point, it’s hard to see why not to just begin planning to use the best attenuating designs possible, to reduce the sound levels to the absolute minimum; everyone around will appreciate the effort. If it is “overdone”, and so puts out so little sound as to be inaudible, then surely that’s a good result, not a waste of effort.
  • Finally, the underlying imperative: to leave the landscape as a whole with a thriving integrity when the current development boom is over, whether that’s in fifteen years, fifty years, or more. Certainly, there will be areas that are temporarily sacrificed for energy development. Some of these areas may regenerate after ten years, some may take generations, and some, like taiga stripped away by oils sands projects, may never return. But in every case, for every landscape in Alberta, it is altogether possible to retain areas that will serve as sources of regenerative vitality in the future. XXXXXX
  • To do so, though, truly comprehensive planning is essential, and now. Again, I realize that there are systems in place to accomplish this--the CEAA, primarily, but I think everyone recognizes that they are severely stretched, and are not able to provide the big-picture perspective in a timely enough fashion to keep pace with development pressures. This spring, Rob Renner was quoted on just this point: “Historically, we have looked at projects on a very prescriptive, one-off basis…We have been prescriptive to the point … where we no longer have control of cumulative impacts.” Clearly, this has to be rectified; it is possible that because of the powerful role that it holds in both local and provincial affairs, only an ethical imperative from within the industry itself can cause all the necessary levers to be turned to allow this to happen in a timely fashion….shifting government budgets, local priorities, and indeed, adjusting the bottom line to include environmental protection of a higher degree than has taken place up til now. XXXXXXXXX
  • What I’m suggesting is to challenge yourselves to commit to moving beyond the practical goal of sustainable development and to tackle the more interactive idea of ethical development. What do I mean by ethical development? I think this approach would be based on empathy, and so involve more listening, to people and the landscape. And, on the ground, likely providing more space for wildlife, livestock, and people to live free of noise intrusions. (each of these pictures shows development that appears to be respecting the landscape around (though I’m not privy to any specific environmental issues at these sites)…these could all be examples of what I’m calling ethical development More than analyzing numbers Doing more than “enough” It means letting go of having relatively unfettered access, just “because you can.” Proactively looking at the long term and the place of energy development in the community and the landscape. Most fundamentally, the idea of ethical development draws on the ancient concept of stewardship. Stewardship for the land, for wildlife, and for the communities that you are part of. Which comes back to my favorite concept today: actively giving consideration to the people you are working with and for. XXXXXX
  • I think this could mean mean doing MORE consultation with neighbors….out at least as far as experience tells you there could be noise impacts; not just within a limited setback distance. Just as wildlife may need more room, so too--and probably moreso, residents, because they can’t move even a short distance further away. It would make sense to increase setbacks to more closely align with what some bioacousticians call “the zone of influence”--the area out to which you can expect there to be any reaction to the sound. This is primarily an issue with any relatively permanent noise source; of course the transient sounds of exploration and drilling will be tolerated at much higher levels than sounds that will become a permanent part of the soundscape of the place (as Directive 38 suggests). Ethical development definitely demands comprehensive planning. And another place that the EUB could consider putting more energy is facilitating conflict resolution when issues do arrive. Rather than primarily asking landownwers to work it out directly with the company, the EUB could play a more active facilitating role, and, more importantly, learn from this and use the experience to establish more proactive protections for landowners and wildlife. Please don’t think that I don’t understand the efforts already underway, both in the Board and within industry circles, to respond to the growing social consensus that our landscapes must be whole when the current boom is over. I’m simply playing the role here of giving as clear expression as I can to this impulse, and perhaps to push you to take on this responsibility in a slightly new way, one that is centered on listening, in a way that residents can really feel and get behind, rather than on simply fixing problems and creating systems to rely on. XXXXXX
  • Sorry, couldn’t resist pulling up the corny idea of looking back from 2020, even though it’s probably getting too close to use it this way….) Still, I think my point is probably clear by now: what legacy does the oil and gas industry want to leave in the communities and landscapes of the province?
  • The bottom line, really, is the measureless value of bringing a real sense of consideration and respect to local communities. Rather than doing all we can to get at the resource, why not do the very best we can to develop it in consort with the needs of those who live there? I have no doubt that the sentiments I’m suggesting--respect and consideration--are ones that every one of you can appreciate, and that you do act with these same values in mind in your personal lives. What I am really asking of you, is that you bring these core values you hold as an individual, and redouble your efforts to find ways that these same values can be given expression within the structures of corporate planning and agency oversight.
  • This is the challenge of our time: to assure that our institutions do not run wild, fueled by agendas that are inconsistent with our core human principles. Why not care enough to make this be a priority? In ten years, the dynamics, between industry and local communities, between development and the landscape, could well be entirely changed. The rewards of doing our very best in these ways will be immeasurable, and will far outlast us.

Listening to the Landscape: community responses to oil and gas noise Listening to the Landscape: community responses to oil and gas noise Presentation Transcript

  • Listening to the Landscape: Cultivating respect and consideration for animal and human experience of the sounds of oil and gas development Jim Cummings Acoustic Ecology Institute Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Oil and gas presence in Alberta is expanding inexorably
  • As footprint expands, noise becomes a trigger point
  • As footprint expands, noise becomes a trigger point
  • Changing soundscapes ➟ friction & resistance
  • Respect and consideration are the foundation for right action
  • Industry and regulators can shift the dynamic of tension & mistrust
  • Oil and gas presence in Alberta will continue to expand
  • Recent developments
  • CBM
  • Oil Sands
  • Continued NG
  • Noise Directive 038
  • This week’s experience
  • The bigger picture
  • Not just numbers
  • Real people
  • Human nourishment
  • As footprint expands, noise becomes a trigger point
  • Rich habitats
  • Impacts of noise on wildlife
  • Acoustic Niches subtle, distant sounds
  • Masking
  • Avoidance/Stress
  • Acoustic Habitat
  • Human responses
  • Appreciate
  • Tolerate
  • Resistance
  • Questions arise
    • “ I ruminate now over whether I am being a good steward of the land”
  • Irritants
  • Compressors
  • Feeling unheard/ignored
  • Loss of peace at home
    • “ I don’t have all the city amenities,
    • but I had quiet, space, and peace.
    • Now I don’t have that.”
  • Historic progression of human noises in soundscape
  • Open space of frontier
  • Mechanization
  • Urbanization/highways/railroads
  • What is different now? Noise unrelated to daily lives
  • Constancy of some noise
  • Industrialization of rural landscape
  • Caring for the landscape
  • Agency/Industry Response
    • Best practices
    • Communications
    • with public
    • Cumulative impacts
  • Questions of balance
  • Shared values Respect and Consideration
  • Community
  • Consideration of landscape-scale ecological needs
  • Consideration of landscape-scale ecological needs
  • Going beyond in some areas pays large dividends for easier access elsewhere
  • Going beyond in some areas pays large dividends for easier access elsewhere
  • What are we talking about?
  • Listening as a resident
  • Listening as a resident
  • Local Soundmarks
  • Wildlife impacts
  • Reduce tension, increase opportunities
  • Landscape left whole
  • Landscape left whole
  • Beyond “Sustainable”, toward Ethical Development
  • Industry and regulators can shift the climate of tension & distrust
    • Proactive action to protect acoustic space
    • Comprehensive planning
    • Facilitating conflict resolution
  • 2020 vision
  • Working to develop resources AND leave positive legacy
  • Listening to—and caring for—the voices of these landscapes