Potential environmental effects of marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy development are not well understood, and yet regulatory agencies are required to make decisions in spite of substantial uncertainty about environmental impacts and their long-term consequences. An understanding of risks associated with interactions between MHK installations and aquatic receptors, including animals, habitats, and ecosystems, can help define key uncertainties and focus regulatory actions and scientific studies on interactions of most concern. As a first step in developing the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Environmental Risk Evaluation System (ERES), PNNL scientists conducted a preliminary risk screening analysis on three initial MHK cases. During FY 2011, two additional cases were added: a tidal project in the Gulf of Maine using Ocean Renewable Power Company TidGenTM turbines and a wave project planned for the coast of Oregon using Aquamarine Oyster surge devices.
Through an iterative process, the screening analysis revealed that top-tier stressors in the two FY 2011 cases were the dynamic effects of the device (e.g., strike), accidents/disasters, and effects of the static physical presence of the device (e.g., habitat alteration). Receptor interactions with these stressors at the highest tiers of risk were dominated by threatened and endangered animals. Risk to the physical environment from changes in flow regime also ranked high. Peer review of this process and results will be conducted in early FY 2012.
The ERES screening analysis provides an analysis of vulnerability of environmental receptors to stressors associated with MHK installations. “Risk” has two components: (1) The likelihood, or “probability”, of the occurrence of a given interaction or event, and (2) the potential “consequence” if that interaction or event were to occur. During FY 2011, the ERES screening analysis focused primarily on the second component of risk, “consequence”, with focused probability analysis for interactions where data was sufficient for probability modeling. Consequence analysis provides an assessment of vulnerability of environmental receptors to stressors associated with MHK installations. Probability analysis is needed to determine specific risk levels to receptors and requires significant data inputs to drive risk models. During FY 2011, two stressor-receptor interactions were examined for the probability of occurrence. The two interactions (spill probability due to an encounter between a surface vessel and an MHK device; and toxicity from anti-biofouling paints on MHK devices) were seen to present relatively low risks to marine and freshwater receptors of greatest concern in siting and permitting MHK devices. A third probability analysis was scoped and initial steps taken to understand the risk of encounter between marine animals and rotating turbine blades. This analysis will be completed in FY 2012.