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Underwater Noise Social Cost Benefit Analysis


This practice analyses the effects and scoial costs of pile driving for offshore wind farms, seismatic research and shipping on underwater noice and the consequences for mammel behaviour. These costs provide input for Environmental Assessements and can influence the development of offshore energy farms in the North Sea.

Application in MSP:
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Questions this practice may help answer

  • What methods can be used to monetise the cost of underwater noise influencing mammals?
  • What are the effects and costs of pile driving for offshore wind farms on underwater noise?
  • What are the effects and costs seismic research on underwater noise?
  • What are the effects and costs of shipping on underwater noise?

Implementation Context

The MSFD calls for Member States to identify measures to be taken to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (Article 13/1), but also to “ensure that measures are cost-effective and technically feasible” by carrying out impact assessments and cost- benefit analyses (CBA) prior to the introduction of any new measure. At present, no formal MSFD-measures regarding underwater noise have been proposed, so formally an SCBA is not required. However, the overview of costs and benefits can be used to consider the conditions and measures to be included in permits for human activities in the Dutch Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Aspects / Objectives

  • Provide input for the for the assessment of the Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth (EA), which will lead to 4,450 MW installed offshore wind power in 2023, to be realised through a phased procurement procedure starting in 2015.
  • Provide insight into the influence of measures to mitigate or prevent underwater noise on the costs and timely completion of offshore wind farm projects.


This SCBA investigates (packages of) measures that may reduce underwater noise in three different activities, comparing their costs and benefits. The activities that are investigated include:·

  • Pile driving (for offshore wind farms)
  • Seismic research
  • Shipping.

The table below gives an overview of the characteristics of the baseline alternative and the policy alternatives for these activities.

As part of the SCBA method used, it was a tempted to monetise as many effects as possible. Where this was not possible, a quantitative or qualitative assessment was performed instead.

Main Outputs / Results

The results of the analysis are presented in the tables below (one table per activity). The tables show the (qualitative, quantitative or monetary) values of the effects for a certain reference year during the time horizon. The monetary values in the tables refer to the value of effects in a certain reference year.

(please note, these values are expressed in real terms, not present values). For each activity, the net present value for costs and benefits has also been calculated, for the effects that could be monetised.

Based on these findings the following recommendations have been developed.

  • For pile driving specifically, it would provide helpful insights if more information would be available about the costs of individual measures rather than an overall estimate of packages, as this would enable the comparison for these measures in terms of cost-effectiveness (in other words, the costs must be determined project-specifically). Moreover, if the costs for the measures can be decreased to EUR 8 million per wind farm, the (social) benefits would outweigh the costs.
  • The measures for the shipping sector cannot be monetised yet (the costs are yet unknown; no useful data could be derived from the interviews), it is advised that this topic is researched further.
  • Marine mammal disturbance days’ is used as an index number for the measurement of ecological effects in this SCBA. However, at present this index cannot be monetised, which makes comparison between alternatives and between effects difficult.
  • More studies on effects of ambient sound on marine life in the North Sea should be performed to get a better indication of effects on marine life.
  • Reducing underwater noise could also have an effect on other marine animals, besides mammals, such as birds, fish, turtles etc. and the marine environment. It is advised that this is researched further.


The methods used in this practice can be applied for in other case studies or plans. The findings show a possible way of monetisation of at least a part of the effects. Whereas one of the main goals of any measure, decreasing marine mammal disturbance, cannot currently be monetised, at least part of the costs and benefits could be monetised, making the outcomes comparable.

Costs / Funding Source

Rijkswaterstaat (Part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the environment)

Responsible Entity

Haskoningdhv Nederland B.V.

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