WWF calls for suspension of oil and gas project in Russian Far East



Posted on 21 April 2006  | 
There could be less than 130 Western gray whales (Eschrictius robustus) remaining.
© WWF-Canon / Michel TerrettazEnlarge

London, UK – The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should not fund Shell's proposed construction of the world's largest hydrocarbon project in Russia's Far East without improved environmental mitigation measures, says WWF. The EBRD’s consultation on the whether to fund the Sakhalin II oil and gas project closes today.

A recent review by some of the world’s leading whale experts concluded that Shell has provided no convincing evidence that the project is not harming the 100 remaining western gray whales. With only two months to go before offshore pipeline construction starts, the scientists reviewed the proposed mitigation measures and concluded that they could not be confident there would be no significant impact on the whales.

"Shell must stop this project now and assess the condition of the whale population this summer before they proceed with any more construction," said WWF-UK's oil expert James Leaton. "Currently, Shell is ignoring the science and the EBRD cannot guarantee the future of the whales, so they should not finance the project.”

“There is no room for error with this critically endangered whale population," he added. "Shell has had years to develop adequate measures, yet they keep coming up short and ploughing on with their construction agenda. There is a full schedule of work planned for this summer, including some of the noisiest construction activities.”

At the recent meeting in Vancouver, Canada, scientists confirmed that just one extra female death per year would be likely to result in their extinction. WWF is also concerned that more "skinny" or emaciated whales were seen last year than any year since 2001 as it suggests disruption of feeding.

There are now several areas where the whale scientists’ recommendations have been ignored. Shell installed a platform base last summer in dense fog during the peak whale season, despite the fact that noise limit discussions have only just been concluded with the experts. They also chose to ignore suggestions to reduce vessel speeds to minimise collision risk.

Previously, in an initial report in February 2005, the scientists called for a precautionary approach – meaning the suspension of construction until conclusive research had been carried out. Shell pushed ahead with their construction programme while commissioning new research. However, in their latest report the information on the monitoring of noise and whales provided by Shell from last summer was described as “uninformative” for this purpose. Shell’s 2005 noise data suggests that the whales were exposed to over 130dB for periods exceeding an hour, which the scientists consider unacceptable. The panel of scientists concluded that any claim there had been no impact was “unfounded”.

The consultation period included public meetings to comply with EBRD policy. It was disappointing that public comments were not taken more seriously. Many concerned stakeholders labelled it a cosmetic exercise designed to provide a justification as to why the project should be approved by the EBRD.

The EBRD appeared to have made up their mind that everything is fine with the project and the scope of the consultation was restricted. It feels as if the EBRD is being sucked in by Shell’s propaganda when there are significant gaps in the project. For example, the official oil spill recovery plan has not been presented for review.

"How can there be a proper consultation if this crucial document is not publicly available to assess," said Leaton.

END NOTES:

• Shell is the majority shareholder (55%) in Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd, the company building Sakhalin II, with smaller partners including Mitsui & Co Ltd, (25%) and Mitsubishi Corp. (20%).

• With around 800km of pipeline crossing 1,000 watercourses and the construction of a drilling platform and a liquefied natural gas plant, Sakhalin II is currently the largest hydrocarbon construction project in the world. However, it has been bedevilled by cost overruns with a total cost now doubled to over US$20 billion. Since it has started construction it has broken a number of EBRD environmental and social policies.

For further information:
Anthony Field, Press Officer
WWF-UK
Tel: +44 1483 412379
E-mail: afield@wwf.org.uk

There could be less than 130 Western gray whales (Eschrictius robustus) remaining.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Terrettaz Enlarge
A group of people holding a banner with the words
Sakhalin Environment Watch protest march: "Say No to EBRD Financing"
© Sakhalin Environment Watch Enlarge

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