Geological and Seabed Survey 

For information on the impact of Brexit on oil and gas environmental legislation, please refer to the pdf document downloadable from the Home Page.

Key Legislation:

For more detail on the Legislation relevant to this page, please use the following links:

Supporting Legislation:
  • EC Directive 92/43/EC (Habitats Directive)
  • EC Directive 2009/147/EC (Birds Directive)
  • Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Habitats (the Bern Convention) and Article 12 of the EC Habitats and Species Directive (92/43/EEC).
  • Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas.
  • JNCC guidelines for minimising the risk of injury to marine mammals from geophysical surveys (August 2017) (PDF document)
    • These guidelines are aimed at minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic surveys and other operations where acoustic energy is released. Application of the guidelines is mandatory. The guidelines apply to all marine mammals, including seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises. All surveys using higher energy seismic sources (including site surveys as well as large scale seismic surveys) must comply with these guidelines or risk prosecution. Additional information is also available on the JNCC website (seismic survey page).
Consent Needed: Consent to Survey is required for the following:

  • Seismic survey
  • High resolution seismic site survey
  • Borehole seismic
  • Shallow drilling
  • Gravity/magnetic survey

Where there is a risk to European Protected Species that cannot be removed or sufficiently reduced by the taking of mitigation measures, then a Wildlife Licence may be required for a number of categories of activities (See Wildlife Licences under the Performance Standards tab).

Notification of Survey is required for:

  • New pipeline and cable route surveys (e.g. side scan sonar and ROV/AUV)
  • Seabed survey not around existing installation or pipeline
  • All surveys near to or near a “relevant site” under the Habitats Directive

Survey Notification is being used to inform other sea users of activity in the area. Notification will be made to groups such as the fishing industry and Ministry of Defence.

No action is required for:

  • Inspection, Repair and Maintenance surveys
  • Surveys of existing pipelines or installations
  • Pre/post lay survey
  • Environmental survey (e.g. grab sampling and box corers)

Benthic Grab and Core Sampling of the Seabed

A marine licence is now a legal requirement under Section 66 (8) of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which states consent is required to use a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, marine structure or floating container to remove any substance or object from the sea bed within the UK marine licensing area. More information can be obtained from the MMO.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 is currently under review by BEIS. However, a marine licence application form (Word document) has been issued.

Marine licensing for seabed sediment sampling is not required in Scottish inshore and offshore waters by order of the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Scottish Inshore and Offshore Regions) Amendment Order 2012, although Scottish Ministers must be notified of sediment sampling (unless sampling is authorised by SEPA under the CAR Regulations).

The Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Amendment) Order 2013 (SI 2013/526) came into force on 6 April 2013. The Order amends the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order 2011. Modifications are made to the conditions subject to which activities do not require a marine licence, including:

  • Marine chemical substances, marine oil treatment substances and substances for removing surface fouling matter
  • Activities relating to scientific instruments, reagents and tracers
  • Removal activity carried out for the purpose of taking a sample for testing or analysis
  • Removal activity carried out for the purpose of removing objects accidentally deposited on the seabed.


The Marine Licensing (Pre-application Consultation) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 – SSI 2013/286 (PDF document)

These Regulations require marine license applicants’ intent on undertaking operations relating to certain classes of licensable marine activity to carry out a pre-application consultation process.

This involves numerous bodies being informed of the intent to submit an application, and the holding of a consultation event in which those bodies, in addition to other interested parties, may provide comments to the prospective applicant as regards to the licensable marine activity.

These Regulations will came into force on 1 January 2014 and apply to Scotland only. They provide for certain classes or descriptions of licensable marine activity to be subject to a pre-application consultation.

SEPA Guidance on Marine Licensable Activities Subject to Pre-Application Consultation

From 6 April 2014, certain activities will be subject to a public pre-application consultation requirement, as specified in the Marine Licensing (Pre-Application Consultation) (Scotland) Regulations 2013.

Activities affected will be large projects with the potential for substantial impacts on the environment, local communities and other legitimate uses of the sea. This new requirement will allow local communities, environmental groups and other interested parties to comment on any proposed development in its early stages, before an application for a marine licence is even submitted.

How to Apply: See Seismic Survey for information on seismic surveys and high resolution seismic site surveys.Application for Consent or Notification of Survey must be made using the PON14A form (see PON14A Template (Word document)). If the survey involves a number of survey techniques, a single PON14A should be submitted. Information required for completion of the PON14A, includes:

  • Type of survey
  • Location and timing (earliest possible start and latest possible finish dates) of survey
  • Details of equipment and vessel
  • Licence details
  • Consultations undertaken

Consent applications (but not notifications) will require an assessment of potential disturbance to protected species (see the Performance Standards tab) to meet JNCC requirements.

BEIS has the duty to ensure as far as possible that all interested parties are consulted but this should not preclude direct consultation prior to surveys.

Additional information may be required if the site is near or within a protected area under the Habitats Directives or Wild Birds Directive or where protected species use the area even if it is outside any habitat designation.

Who to Apply to: The completed PON14A should be submitted by email to BEIS EDU-OED Environmental Management Team in Aberdeen ( BEIS will forward a copy to the statutory consultees (JNCC, DEFRA or MS).The completed PON14A should also be copied by the applicant to British Telecom, NAVAREA One Co-ordinator, the Ministry of Defence, MCA and Kingfisher Bulletin. For surveys within 6 miles of shore, a copy of the PON14A should also be sent to the relevant SFC. Contact details are provided in Appendix B (Word document) of the PON14A. This step will not be necessary when the UK Oil Portal is fully operational, the timing of which is not yet known.
When to Apply: At least 28 days before proposed survey. Where the survey is likely to be in an area where the Habitats or Wild Birds Directives may apply, contact with BEIS and JNCC should be made as early as possible, and at least 2 months before the survey. Shorter notice may be possible for some site surveys, however a minimum of 14 days is required, and whilst BEIS is normally flexible, short notice can risk delay.
What to do in the Event of Cancellations and Delays: If a survey is cancelled, BEIS should be advised immediately by email as soon as possible. Local fishing organisations will be informed by BEIS. If a survey is delayed or there are any substantial changes (e.g. large increase in survey area) this should be notified to BEIS by sending an updated PON14A as soon as possible, or at least a week before commencement. To avoid frequent updates, BEIS recommends recording earliest possible start date and latest possible end date on the original PON14A submission.
Identify Whether Survey is in or Near a Protected Area under the Habitats Directive:

BEIS is obliged to take proper account of the obligations stemming from the Birds and Habitats Directives to protect and conserve the marine environment. A number of offshore sites have been designated as draft or possible SACs (see JNCC website). If survey is within these areas or close by, consultation should be undertaken with the JNCC as soon as possible.

Assessment of disturbance of marine European Protected Species: Under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2009 (as amended), a person is guilty of an offence if he:

(a) deliberately captures, injures, or kills any wild animal of a European protected species, or

(b) deliberately disturbs wild animals of any such species.

Disturbance of animals includes in particular any disturbance which is likely to:

(a) impair their ability:

  • to survive, to breed or reproduce, or to rear or nurture their young, or
  • in the case of animals of a hibernating or migratory species, to hibernate or migrate, or

(b) to affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong.

Marine European Protected Species (EPS) include all species of cetaceans, all species of marine turtles and sturgeon.

The onus is on the developer carrying out an activity to:

  1. Assess the likelihood of committing a disturbance offence
  2. Consider the need for mitigation measures
  3. Decide whether to apply for a Wildlife Licence

A description of the assessment of the likelihood of committing a disturbance offence must be included in the PON14A application. Guidance on undertaking such an assessment is included in the JNCC’s The protection of marine European Protected Species from injury and disturbance for England, Wales and the UK offshore marine area.

This document is currently being updated by the JNCC and a link will be provided once the document is released.

EPS Disturbance and Wildlife Licences: If there is a risk which cannot be removed or sufficiently reduced by the taking of mitigation measures then a Wildlife Licence (or EPS Disturbance Licence) may be required to be granted by the regulatory authorities for a number of “purposes”. Purposes include “over-riding public interest” and “scientific and educational purposes”. Licences can however only be issued where there is no satisfactory alternative. It is expected that the majority of activities will not require a wildlife licence since their potential for disturbance will fall below the threshold of the office in the Regulations. See the European Protected Species (EPS) page for further information.
JNCC Seismic Guidelines (see Guidance under the Legislation tab): In relation to oil and gas seismic surveys in the UKCS, it is a legally binding requirement of the consent issued under regulation 4 of the Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001 (& 2007 Amendments) by BEIS, that the JNCC Seismic Guidelines must be followed, and the elements of the guidelines that are relevant to a particular survey are incorporated into the legally-binding condition of consent. It should be noted that it is the responsibility of the company issued consent by BEIS, referred to in these guidelines as the ‘applicant’, to ensure that these guidelines are followed, and it is recommended that a copy of the JNCC guidelines are available on board all vessels undertaking seismic activities in UK waters. When the survey is completed an MMO report should be submitted to the JNCC.
Marine Mammal Observers: In areas that are important for marine mammals (as indicated in consultation with the JNCC), operators may be required to provided qualified and experienced personnel to act as Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) on board the survey vessel. JNCC will stipulate the number of MMOs required.A further duty is to ensure that the JNCC reporting forms are completed for inclusion in the MMO report.
Monitoring: Conditions may be applied.
What to Report:

A Survey Closeout Report must be submitted. This requires information on the survey area covered and sail line kilometres shot. PON14A Survey Closeout Form (Word document).Where MM Observers have been stipulated, marine mammal sightings must be reported using MMO Report Forms (the latest reporting Templates are available on the JNCC website).

The NSTA prepared a guidance for PON 9 notifications, which covers requirements for pre-2018 wells and surveys and licences determined before the new Energy Act 2016 regulations came into force. The guidance document outlines the retention and reporting of information and physical samples.

Who to Report to:

All Survey Closeout Reports (PON14A) plus required attachments as detailed on the PON14A should be submitted to the PON14 Coordinator at addition PON14As for site surveys should be submitted to the MEDIN Coordinator, BGS and for seismic surveys (except site surveys) to Schlumberger Information Solutions. Contact details are provided on the PON14A.MMO Reports to the JNCC.

Information reported under PON 9 should be communicated by a dedication PON 9 coordinator within the organisation. The contact details of the PON 9 coordinator should be sent to

When to Report: Reports should be submitted post survey.
Surveying in Breach of PON 14 Requirements: Non-compliance with PON14A requirements would result in a cessation of operations and could result in prosecution and/or the revocation of the Seaward Exploration or Production Licence.
Offshore Inspection: The BEIS (then DECC) Offshore Oil and Gas Environment Unit Enforcement Policy (PDF document) sets out the general principles that Inspectors shall follow in relation to enforcement including prosecution.
Deliberate Disturbance of Marine European Protected Species: If it has not be satisfactorily demonstrated to the Regulator that significant disturbance will not occur or where a Wildlife Licence is not held, an offence will have been seen to have been committed under the Habitats Regulations (as amended) or the Offshore Marine Conservation Regulations (as amended).
Cancellations: Not applicable. However in the event of survey cancellation BEIS should be informed by email as soon as possible.

BEIS Environmental Alert 002/2016 The offshore environmental inspectorate has noticed an increase in the number of operators breaching permit conditions, particularly with reference to depositing rock outside of approved areas, depositing unauthorised quantities of grout bags, unlicensed deposit of sandbags and carrying out geological surveys out with permitted dates.Operators are reminded that undertaking operations which contravene permit terms and conditions can be a criminal offence of the permit or licence holder.
DECC (now BEIS) Position Paper:

BEIS as regulator for the oil and gas industry has commissioned a major research project, part of which will look at all noise sources from offshore oil and gas activities and rank them according to their level of environmental concern. When complete, the Department, in co-operation with its statutory nature conservation adviser, the JNCC will use the report to inform the further development of its mitigation and management regime for oil and gas environmental noise. Until this information is available, the Department and the JNCC will continue to focus on those activities that it considers may have effects on marine mammals.

Increased protection for endangered marine life of the North-East Atlantic:

The OSPAR Commission has agreed measures to protect iconic species in the North-East Atlantic from threats faced by these species from sea users and harmful waste getting into the marine environment. The measures also extend to the protection of several important habitat types.

The press release which came out in December 2013 can be downloaded from the OSPAR Commission website.

Marine Conservation Zones (England and Wales) and Marine Protection Areas (Scotland):

The Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 includes provisions enabling Ministers to designate and protect a new type of marine protected area, to be called Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ). MCZs will exist alongside European marine sites (SACs and SPAs), to form a marine protected areas network. Existing Marine Nature Reserves at Lundy and Skomer will be converted into MCZs. More information can be found on the DEFRA website. In Scottish internal and territorial waters, the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (PDF document) has similar provisions for the creation of Marine Protection Areas (MPAs). The Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 also makes provision for executive devolution to the Scottish Ministers of certain additional functions including nature conservation and enforcement. This will result in the Scottish Ministers becoming the lead competent authority for most marine nature conservation functions across both territorial and offshore waters around Scotland. It will ensure that a single authority has primary responsibility thereby facilitating a more integrated approach. Powers devolved to the Scottish Ministers include licensing of activities that would otherwise constitute an office under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended) with the exception of oil and gas activities which remains with BEIS.

Marine Protection Measures:

A 12-week public consultation period will run looking for views on proposed measures to protect some of Scotland’s most important and fragile marine environments. Click here for more information.

New marine draft Special Protection Areas being considered by Scottish Government:

The draft SPAs that are being considered have been identified based on many years of research on marine birds carried out largely by JNCC.

New Marine Protected Areas designated to help contribute towards safeguarding Scotland’s seas:

It was announced on the 24 July 2014 that 30 MPAs have been designated under the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act. These will be incorporated into the National Marine Plan and represented in National Marine Plan interactive alongside existing protected areas. More information can be found on the JNCC website and the Scottish Government.

Planning Scotland’s Seas 2013:

Planning Scotland’s Seas: 2013 – Possible Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas Consultation Overview – Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Report

The SEA identifies positive and negative effects, including ‘cumulative’ effects. The assessment has been systematic and the findings are recorded in a series of tables. The significant impacts are described in detail in the Environmental Report.

The report can be found on the Scottish Government website, link here.

South marine plan areas futures analysis:

This report reviews past trends and projections for the next six and 20 years in the South marine plan areas for each marine sector in the Marine Policy Statement and considers potential key future changes and policy directions of relevance to the sectors.

More information can be found on the Marine Management Organisation’s website.

Twenty-seven new Marine Conservation Zones designated:

In November 2013, Defra formally announced the designation of the first substantial suite of Marine Conservation Zones in inshore and offshore waters off the English coast. The 27 sites were designated to help conserve the diversity of marine life and geology found in our seas.

The press release is available downloadable from the JNCC website.