EDITOR'S NOTE: This is 1 of 5 papers reporting on the results of a 4-year project to develop an environmental risk-based decision support tool, to assist the oil industry in establishing cost-effective measures for reducing risk to the marine environment from drilling discharges.
In order to improve the ecological status of aquatic systems, both toxic (e.g., chemical) and nontoxic stressors (e.g., suspended particles) should be evaluated. This paper describes an approach to environmental risk assessment of drilling discharges to the sea. These discharges might lead to concentrations of toxic compounds and suspended clay particles in the water compartment and concentrations of toxic compounds, burial of biota, change in sediment structure, and oxygen depletion in marine sediments. The main challenges were to apply existing protocols for environmental risk assessment to nontoxic stressors and to combine risks arising from exposure to these stressors with risk from chemical exposure. The defined approach is based on species sensitivity distributions (SSDs). In addition, precautionary principles from the EU-Technical Guidance Document were incorporated to assure that the method is acceptable in a regulatory context. For all stressors a protocol was defined to construct an SSD for no observed effect concentrations (or levels; NOEC(L)-SSD) to allow for the calculation of the potentially affected fraction of species from predicted exposures. Depending on the availability of data, a NOEC-SSD for toxicants can either be directly based on available NOECs or constructed from the predicted no effect concentration and the variation in sensitivity among species. For nontoxic stressors a NOEL-SSD can be extrapolated from an SSD based on effect or field data. Potentially affected fractions of species at predicted exposures are combined into an overall risk estimate. The developed approach facilitates environmental management of drilling discharges and can be applied to define risk-mitigating measures for both toxic and nontoxic stress.