The Inevitable Evolution Toward Below-Ambient Noise Regs


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Presentation to the Alberta oil and gas industry biannual Spring Noise Conference 2009, in which addresses the public and regulatory pressure toward increasingly stringent noise regulations, with a tip of the hat to industry representatives who recognize the benefits of using state of the art noise control.

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  • Hi everyone. As usual in these settings, my presentation is less practical than most here; I’m usually asked to bring in some sort of big picture view. Either that or it’s just for comic relief from the non-profit dream world, I never really know…. This year, I’m going to be addressing what appear to me to be inevitable dynamics that lead to the fact that no matter how well we meet standards asked of us, we’ll always be asked to do more.
  • GET THIS DOWN!!!!!!!!! IT’S EASY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Directive 38 is a stellar noise control standard……yet history, and current events both here and elsewhere, tells us that both public pressure and improving technologies will tend to push a continuing evolution of noise standards toward reducing our acoustic footprint.
  • 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.
  • My message today is that no matter how diligently we work to meet the current standards, there will always be pressure to reduce impacts even more. We’ll look at LESSONS ETHICAL PATH
  • Environmental regs often move gradually along a continuum from, to put it coarsely, a kind of free-for-all, into increasingly strict regulatory burdons.
  • Next come…..
  • Leads to an era of…
  • Here we see Navy sonar techs, whale researchers, and the beleaguered head of the NOAA ocean acoustics program, who ‘s got the Navy, researchers, and the public equally upset
  • In forestry, recreation, wildlife conservation, and alternative energy, environmental regulation is forever tightened.
  • Let’s look at some examples of how scrutiny of industrial activities inevitably increases over time--no matter how well we respond to the requirements imposed.
  • In forestry, the evolution is easy to see…..
  • Then, in 70s and since…
  • Now, more and more clarity, yet comes with more limits on many activities, both industrial and recreational
  • Current state of the art is…..
  • Impacts on wildlife are diverse, and recent years has seen increasing scrutiny of the effects of noise in parks and around industrial developments
  • Ocean noise has stirred a lot of public awareness, and is a great example of how it started as a sort of “out of sight out of mind” free-for-all in which noise impacts were totally off the radar
  • 5-10 years ago…..2000 Bahamas…. started a surge of concern among scientists, navy and the public about intense sound injuring and killing whales.
  • In just the past 2-3 of years, major shift toward very broad-based concern over behavioral impacts…..
  • In just the past 2-3 of years, major shift toward very broad-based concern over behavioral impacts…..
  • And now, MPA managers and sonar activists are starting to talk about STRs based on need for natural acoustic habitat
  • On land, too, new and more specific questions are being asked by scientists and regulators….
  • NPS is doing fascinating research into the effects of moderate background noise on animals who need to listen at the edges of audibility. This could be relevant near CBM compressors and in the north woods oil sands regions.
  • A whole array of different sorts of impacts of human noise have become common considerations in the research and regulatory communities.
  • And it’s not just wildlife impacts that led to increasing regulation….
  • IN all these arenas--the ocean, among animals, and in human communities--the push for increasing regulation has an unspoken ethical dimension underlying the discussion.
  • Why do we live in the wide-open west?
  • Why do we live in the wide-open west?
  • Why do we live in the wide-open west? 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.”
  • … .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
  • Most of you have probably considered lists like this in the course of your work with communities…..
  • 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.
  • Always, it’s those who act above and beyond the letter of the law that lead the way….
  • Is it …… Practical, Feasible, Ethical? ….. Is the leading edge, but, yes to each…..
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Redoubling efforts to complete comprehensive planning 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.
  • 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.
  • The Inevitable Evolution Toward Below-Ambient Noise Regs

    1. 1. The Inevitable Evolution Toward Below-Ambient Noise Standards Jim Cummings Acoustic 2009 Spring Noise Conference Noise Awareness: Supporting Sound Partnerships
    2. 2. Good enough? <ul><li>Or continually strive to reduce our acoustic footprint? </li></ul>History, current events near and far tell us: Public pressure and improving technologies will drive regulatory evolution
    3. 3. For many industries and communities, noise is increasingly a trigger point
    4. 4. Inevitable pressures to reduce impacts <ul><li>Ethical aspects </li></ul>The path forward opportunities and stumbling blocks Lessons from elsewhere
    5. 5. Early “wild west” ➟ increasing regulatory limits Inescapable pattern in environmental regulation and there is never an “enough”! Early regulations: Often based largely on meeting the needs of industry
    6. 6. Early “wild west” ➟ increasing regulatory limits Inescapable pattern in environmental regulation and there is never an “enough”! More robust environmental laws: Assess impacts, set limits to mitigate effects on wildlife, people
    7. 7. Early “wild west” ➟ increasing regulatory limits Inescapable pattern in environmental regulation and there is never an “enough”! Ethical push to prevent (to the best of our ability) impacts on wildlife and/or humans Sustained regulatory pressure:
    8. 8. Oil and gas producers are not alone in traversing this path
    9. 9. The same history and dynamics are playing out with ocean noise Navy sonar specialists Whale researchers NOAA regulators
    10. 10. Environmental regs inevitably get more stringent forestry recreation alternative energy wildlife conservation
    11. 11. Ever-increasing scrutiny
    12. 12. Forestry easy to see the evolution… Early years of forest management: Harvesting trees as an agricultural commodity
    13. 13. Forestry From agriculture to roadless rules EISs, EAs, Forest Plans to address: Habitat Stream quality Wildlife Restoration
    14. 14. Forestry From agriculture to roadless rules Modern management Wilderness protection Roadless areas limit logging Off-road vehicle restrictions
    15. 15. Forestry Ecosystem-based management <ul><li>Landscape-scale analysis </li></ul><ul><li>Buffers and corridors </li></ul><ul><li>Fully operating ecosystems </li></ul><ul><li>Not just “enough numbers” </li></ul><ul><li>Increasingly also considers acoustic habitat and impacts </li></ul>
    16. 16. Noise and wildlife Increasing regulation across the board Approaching ambient background as goal
    17. 17. Ocean noise free-for-all ➟ injury ➟ behavioral ➟ noise STR Seafloor profiles via dynamite Unfettered Naval sonars Unregulated whalewatching Out of sight, out of mind: Noise impacts totally off the radar
    18. 18. Ocean noise free-for-all ➟ injury ➟ behavioral ➟ noise STR Sonar strandings spur public outcry and Navy observation/mitigation procedures Research push: auditory impacts and possible injury mechanisms in rare cases of stranding deaths New noise exposure standards imposed on Navy as well as oil and gas operations 5-10 years ago…
    19. 19. Ocean noise free-for-all ➟ injury ➟ behavioral ➟ noise STR Dive profiles with acoustic tags to record received levels Series of reports on behavioral responses to noise: IWC, DFO, EU, NOAA IMO, NMFS, EU address shipping noise Past 2-3 years
    20. 20. Ocean noise free-for-all ➟ injury ➟ behavioral ➟ noise STR Prevent injury (Level A Harassment) Assess behavioral (Level B Harassment) Uncertain population-level effects Some behavioral disruption beginning to receive increased scrutiny at ambient levels At-risk populations: bowhead 120dB limit Foraging disruptions: apparent near ambient
    21. 21. Ocean noise free-for-all ➟ injury ➟ behavioral ➟ noise STR MPAs: recording “noise budgets” NGOs, researchers advocating “Spatio-Temporal Restrictions” on noisy activities First discussions of preserving “ acoustic habitat” in oceans Most recently
    22. 22. Effects on terrestrial wildlife New, more specific questions being asked What animals/behaviors are most affected by a particular human sound source?
    23. 23. Effects on terrestrial wildlife Masking: Affects prey and predators Increased vigilance Lost opportunities Importance of sounds at limits of audibility : Moderate ambient background noise has measurable impact on animals’ energy budgets
    24. 24. Effects on terrestrial wildlife Acoustic impacts on the research/regulatory agenda Initial intrusions into “natural quiet” Interference with key behavior or exclusion from territory Edge effects Innovative research designs isolate noise impacts
    25. 25. Human impacts Also seeing increasing regulation
    26. 26. Human impacts Also seeing increasing regulation Public Lands Management “ Right to Quiet”? Limits on Motorized recreation Air Tours--some parks exclude them Snowmobiles/ORVs--more areas off limits
    27. 27. Human impacts New metrics to measure human noise Measurements keyed to ambient background rather than dB level “ Percent time audible” e.g. road traffic 24% “ Noise-free interval” e.g. 8 minutes Audibility standard: If it can be heard, its effect is considered
    28. 28. Human impacts Wind farms facing increasing regulation Local councils struggle to balance industry norms and citizen report of problems 20% of wind farms spur noise complaints? Widely varying setback limits 350m to 2km 2km is effectively a below-ambient standard in nearly all situations (and is increasingly on the table, though rarely used)
    29. 29. Ethical dimension What is the “right” place to draw the line? Ethical line is often hidden or unspoken in how we interpret the “concrete” analysis of measurable impacts How to balance the need for industrial development with residents’ (or animals) right to a rural soundscape?
    30. 30. Ethical dimension What is our obligation to neighbors? To be sure people won’t be woken at night? To stay within 5dB of ambient? To assure we are not changing the soundscape at people’s homes? (i.e. below ambient)
    31. 31. Ethical dimension Any obligation to wildlife? Don’t disrupt mating, birthing (key biological functions) Minimize behavioral disruption (assume some acclimation) Avoid measurable disruption
    32. 32. Ethical dimension Drives research, public, and regulatory agendas Accept inevitable pressure to keep reducing sound? Work proactively toward below-ambient standard? At nearest residence? Or, address wildlife and stock by setting ambient standard at modest distance from installation?
    33. 33. Pause for perspective Looking back to understand today’s local reactions
    34. 34. The sound of this place Historic progression of human noises in the soundscape
    35. 35. Open space of frontier Natural sounds: Wind, birds, weather, livestock Nearly organic human sounds: Cartwheels, steel plows churning soil
    36. 36. Mechanization 1880s-1950s Daily life incorporates motors: Plowing, harvesting, feeding, pumping, going to town Labor saved = music to their ears
    37. 37. Highways/railroads Hear more vehicles away from farms and ranches: Neighbors going about similar daily business Network of roads and railroads increasingly piercing quiet distances between settlements Not directly related to own or neighbor’s daily lives, but largely serving needs of communities: Supplies in, products out 1940s and on
    38. 38. What is different now? Noise unrelated to daily lives Large trucks Sound penetrates walls in town Travels farther in open country Crews on “their” range Activity not under control of ranch and family
    39. 39. Constancy of some noise New aspect of the acoustic experience
    40. 40. Not just numbers How would 40dB of compressor sound change this place?
    41. 41. Real people Family histories here Generally live and let live When such people decide they need to say something, it usually bears listening to….. Not quick to complain
    42. 42. Sincere concerns <ul><li>“ I ruminate now over whether I am being a good steward of the land” </li></ul>
    43. 43. A step too far? <ul><li>“ I don’t have all the city amenities, </li></ul><ul><li>but I had quiet, space, and peace. </li></ul><ul><li>Now I don’t have that.” </li></ul>
    44. 44. Listening as a resident What you consider insignificant or acceptable Residents may well experience differently
    45. 45. What will it take to minimize problems/complaints? Annoyance Technical Factors: ♦ Constant industrial noise levels that exceed 55dBA outdoors at a residence ♦ Sharp intermittent noise events ♦ Large swings in noise levels of at least 20dBA above ambient levels ♦ Low Frequency Noise content including tonal component Annoyance Psychological Factors: ♦ Perception of loudness (just hearing it creates anger) ♦ Attitude toward the noise source (poor relationship with operator) ♦ Sense of no control over the noise (did not want it there) ♦ Fear of the noise source (associate explosion, toxic release, fire, etc.) ♦ Unappealing noise (may be low sound level but not pleasant or relaxing) ♦ Expectations of the soundscape (rural setting should be quiet) Is dealing with Technical Factors enough? (or, all we can objectively do?) Are psychological factors largely predicated on “distrust of operator,” or otherwise surrogates for other issues? Final two Psychological Factors are key: Expectations in rural soundscapes
    46. 46. Shared values Respect and Consideration Meeting halfway in good faith
    47. 47. Above and beyond Working proactively to address concerns Directive 38 initiative: Oil and gas industry going beyond the standards required of other industries Sector-leading companies and initiatives: Trident Resources “ Strive for maximum noise attenuation in our gas processing facilities” NCIA’s RNMP Integrating non-energy sector industry Addressing reality of previously unregulated cumulative effects SPOG (Sundre) “ Aiming to exceed regulatory requirements and using the best practical noise control technology at new facilities” “ Assess facilities on a constant basis to determine opportunities to reduce noise levels whenever possible.”
    48. 48. Above and beyond Directive 38 A state-of-the-art noise standard Ambient +5dB, nearly inaudible 40dB outside homes; adjustments for LF and very low ambient Eliminates nearly all complaints Still… Highest goal would be to get to or below average ambient Sector-leading companies and initiatives will drive the continual evolution…..and help bridge the gaps for companies that follow Social responsibility……”it’s just the right thing to do” Target: 35dB? 30dB? Or simply best available equipment?
    49. 49. Toward a below ambient standard What would it take? Is it a reasonable goal? Feasible Can be done with current or forthcoming technology—without breaking the bank (works in the field) Practical Can be regulated—noise monitoring technologies, consistent standards (works within agency permitting process) Respectful Responsive to specific concerns— psychological factors minimized or eliminated (works in communities) ? Wild animals, domestic stock minimally affected (works in landscapes)
    50. 50. Toward a below ambient standard Steps toward the goal… D38, Rule 12 are solid standards…but prepare for future reductions Continued R&D, watch sector-leading companies for new initiatives Leading edge technologies, including prototypes and concepts Continue to improve Best Practices in community relations Reduce psychological factors - increase transparency - work together When neighbors know you’re doing your best, they’re likely to be allies
    51. 51. Toward a below ambient standard Stumbling blocks… Playing field is not level How to move agribusiness, mining, manufacturing into shared responsibility for the local soundscape? Oil and gas industry continues to lead the way; further improvements likely need to be voluntary or cross-sector Variable sound propagation and transient peaks Seasonal, atmospheric conditions, reality of using averages, etc. Will always be times when even 35dB average does not fully protect neighbors Costs Should this final step—to below ambient—be a shared responsibility? Landowner…environmental groups…Province….national government? “ Why bother?” Relatively few complaints Yet for those who are disturbed, the impact can be profound
    52. 52. Toward a below ambient standard Who will drive this continued evolution? How much will we value—and respond to—the psychological factors? Where will the initiative—and the pressure—come from? Local people Respect current best practices / willing to engage constructively Awareness of need for further improvements to be financially feasible ERCB Honest broker between public and industry Work with sister agencies to level the playing field between sectors Noise control industry - key players Keep innovations coming; build bottom-line case for adopting new products Oil and gas companies Proactive engagement with communities, centered on willingness to adopt best-in-class solutions
    53. 53. Developing resources while leaving a positive legacy
    54. 54. Ethical development Minimizing the acoustic footprint
    55. 55. Rich habitats Maintain interconnection/communication between parts of the landscape Network of habitats that can thrive with minimal noise intrusion Below ambient may be especially important in linkage areas
    56. 56. Listening to—and caring for—the voices of this landscape
    57. 57. Discussion: Toward a below ambient standard What would it take? Is it a reasonable goal? Practical Feasible Respectful Technology / Economics / Public acceptance Steps toward the goal… Stumbling blocks… Leading edge technologies What’s coming down the pike? Can they be cost-effective? Leveling the playing field How crucial? Steps to make it happen? Who will drive this continued evolution? Community relations Best practices / Cultivating relationships with constructive partners Industry What is the incentive in “going beyond” and having a public commitment to maximizing noise control efforts? ERCB role