STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (SEA)
SEA is the formal, systematic evaluation of the likely significant environmental effects of implementing a national or regional plan before a decision is made to adopt the plan. Environmental assessment is defined under the SEA Directive as:
“the preparation of an environmental report, the carrying out of consultations, the taking into account of the environmental report and the results of the consultations in decision‑making together with the provision of information.”
The SEA Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment came into force in 2001. The Directive’s objective is to:
"provide for a high level of protection of the environment and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes with a view to promoting sustainable development, by ensuring that, in accordance with this Directive, an environmental assessment is carried out of certain plans and programmes which are likely to have significant effects on the environment.”
The following Regulations have been established under Irish Law:
- European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations 2004 (Statutory Instrument (SI) 435 of 2004); and
- Planning and Development (Strategic Environmental Assessment) Regulations 2004 (SI 436 of 2004).
Screening is the process for deciding whether a particular plan or programme, other than those for which an SEA is mandatory, would be likely to have significant environmental effects, and would thus warrant an SEA.
In determining whether a particular plan or programme may have significant effects on the environment, the Competent Authority will take account of:
The characteristics of the plan or programme, or the degree to which it:
- sets a framework for projects and other activities, either with regard to the location, nature, size and operating conditions or by allocating resources;
- influences other plans including those in a hierarchy;
- integrates environmental considerations in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development;
- incorporates environmental problems;
- is relevant to the implementation of EU legislation on the environment (eg plans and programmes linked to waste-management or water protection); and
The nature of the effects and of the area likely to be affected by the plan or programme, with regard to:
- the probability, duration, frequency and reversibility of the effects;
- the cumulative nature of the effects;
- the transboundary nature of the effects;
- the risks to human health or the environment;
- the magnitude and spatial extent of the effects;
the value and vulnerability of the area likely to be affected due to:
- special natural characteristics or cultural heritage,
- exceeded environmental quality standards or limit values,
- intensive land-use,
- the effects on areas or landscapes which have a recognised national, EU or international protection status.
Scoping is the procedure whereby the range of environmental issues and the level of detail to be included in the Environmental Report are decided upon, in consultation with the prescribed environmental authorities.
The purpose of scoping is to identify the likely extent (geographic, temporal and thematic) and level of detail for the assessment and the information to be included in the SEA and Environmental Report.
While scoping is primarily focused on identifying the impacts to be assessed and which of these are the most important, scoping should also address other issues including:
- Types of reasonable alternatives which ought to be considered
- Information and studies needed to characterise the existing environment
- Methods used to predict the magnitude of environmental effects
- Criteria against which the significance of effects should be evaluated
- Any further consultations to be carried out
- Environmental objectives and targets
EVALUATION AND ASSESSMENT
The evaluation process establishes the baseline environment and key environmental resources, sensitivities, threats and trends are identified. The potential impacts on nature, the extent of change, the geographical extent, the temporal extent and probability are evaluated. Potential impacts are identified, predicted, evaluated and mitigated. Any significant data gaps and ongoing work are identified. An assessment of mitigation and monitoring is carried out.
The environmental report documents all of the data from the evaluation and assessment section. Following consultation and review within the Steering Group, this document is made available for public review.
Following publication of the environmental report, consultation and review by environmental authorities, industry, experts and the public is carried out.
AQUAFACT have been involved in the following SEAs:
- Second strategic Environmental Assessment for Oil and Gas Activity in Ireland’s Offshore Atlantic Waters: IOSEA2 Porcupine Basin
Third strategic Environmental Assessment for Oil and Gas Activity in Ireland’s Offshore Atlantic Waters: IOSEA3 Rockall Basin
Fourth Strategic Environmental Assessment for Oil and Gas Activity in Ireland’s Offshore Waters: IOSEA4 Irish and Celtic Sea