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In addition to renewable energy generation, the marine environment is host to a number of other activities, many of which occasionally conflict with the activities of offshore renewable operators or those with cables on the sea bed – including the fishing industry. Andrew Oliver, head of our renewable energy group, looks at how the industry has adapted and the protocols that have been established to avoid conflict
One of the industries most at risk from conflict with wind farms and subsurface structures is the fishing industry, which has had to work with hazards to fishing for years, particularly with regard to the offshore oil and gas industry.
The potential risks associated with offshore renewable and subsea cable industries come in two distinct categories. The first is surface structures. A typical offshore wind farm will be visible to mariners from a reasonable distance as they will see the wind turbines on the surface. These structures are normally set out in a pattern with similar distances between each wind turbine on any particular site. The distance between wind turbines currently ranges from between 400m and 1,000m, although may change in the future when larger wind turbines become available. Also visible on the surface may be electricity substations which are similar to a small platform in size and are used as a distribution point for the electricity generated and export to shore.
The second hazard for fishing activities are subsurface structures. These include subsea cables. These are not only prevalent in the vicinity of wind farms but they are also widespread throughout the waters of Europe providing power and telecommunication links. Other hazards include final splices with pieces of wire arising from repairs to cables and repeaters or signal boosters, which can be found at intervals of about 50km along a cable. Damage to, or loss of, a repeater can result in expensive repairs or replacement as well as breakdowns in commercial business communications. They can also cause severe danger to fishing vessels which may snag upon them.
The seabed is a dynamic environment and cables can be scoured out by tides and currents or moved by anchors and fishing gear. Therefore, cables that might at one stage be considered safe from subsea activities at the time of installation may become unburied and create hazards.
The avoidance of risks, both to offshore operators and their assets, as well as to fishermen, their crews, vessels and gear, are best mitigated by cooperation between all parties.
The offshore oil and gas industry has made progress in this area through the cooperation of parties with Seafish, the Sea Fish Industry Authority. Offshore operators provide Seafish with data which is then made available to the industry on its Kingfisher Information charts and bulletins, which provide the industry with regular updates as to the latest developments and structures.
The Seafish model has been imitated with a good degree of success by the offshore renewable industry through The Kingfisher Information Service – Offshore Renewable & Cable Awareness project (KIS-ORCA), a joint initiative between the European Subsea Cables Association (ESCA), Renewable UK and the Kingfisher Information Service.
Operators are strongly advised to subscribe to the KIS-ORCA project by providing appropriate data to Seafish so that this can be published on the charts and bulletins. Whilst there is no statutory requirement to participate in the project, it would be prudent for all offshore operators to do so as part of their risk protection and due diligence procedures. Indeed, failure to publish data may even give a person suffering loss as a result of a conflict with offshore installations a potential right of action. Insurers too will also likely require operators and fishing vessel owners to utilise all available means to avoid conflict.
By embracing the project fully both industries can work in harmony as good neighbours but, most importantly, help to prevent loss and damage, including risk to life.
More details of the project can be found from the website www.kis-orca.eu.
For help and advice across all areas of renewable energy, please get in touch with Andrew Oliver on 01482 325242 or email email@example.com