Posted on 18 May 2015
Expert panel and NGOs call on company to delay major seismic survey until 2016
Two months before Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (SEIC) is due to conduct a major seismic survey off Sakhalin Island, a coalition of non-governmental organizations has today added its voice to a call by the Western Grey Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) for the company to postpone its survey until 2016 because of the potential impact on endangered western gray whales.
The coalition – IFAW, WWF, Sakhalin Environment Watch, Pacific Environment and Friends of the Earth – strongly endorsed the expert panel’s Statement of Concern
, which urged SEIC to delay the survey until next year to minimize the impact on the whales, which migrate to their feedings ground off Sakhalin Island each summer. In particular, the panel was concerned that two surveys would be conducted in 2015 by SEIC and Exxon Neftegaz Limited (ENL) and that the unprecedented noise and duration could drive whales away.
The panel also stressed that it was an “unfortunate state of affairs that major seismic activities from several companies can take place without an integrated environmental impact assessment” and that this should not occur again.
“We fully support the advisory panel’s call for a postponement because no seismic survey of this scale has ever been conducted in this area and the permits that were issued by the government did not take into account the cumulative impacts of all the projects,” said Maria Vorontsova, Director of IFAW Russia and CIS. “The surveys planned for this summer could really undermine years of work to protect the last remaining western gray whales by many organizations, including SEIC.”
While full survey plans are not publicly available, some details have emerged that are cause for real concern. The SEIC survey will take place later than originally planned so most of the whales will have reached Sakhalin Island. In addition, some night surveys are planned in areas where whales are likely to appear, and the scout-vessel carrying marine mammal monitors will not be permanently present.
“Once again we see the effectiveness of the Panel as a unique and strong science-based body that can and should make proper assessments of the impact of industrial activities and recommend measures to mitigate the impact on western gray whales,” said Alexey Knizhnikov, WWF-Russia. “It is clear that not only SIEC but all companies operating in Sakhalin’s waters should abide by the panel’s recommendation and postpone seismic surveys planned for this summer.”
The coalition also strongly supported the panel’s recommendation that the “importance of more dialogue among the operators, the authorities, other stakeholders and the Panel on how to address the issue of cumulative acoustic impacts on gray whales off Sakhalin in a multi-operator context is greater than ever before.”
But the companies do not appear to be listening. On March 4th
, the Biodiversity Working group of the Sakhalin Region Administration recommended to ENL and SEIC that they develop a joint plan for seismic surveys in 2015 but they have not abided by this.
“It has now become known that the two companies have not fulfilled this recommendation of Sakhalin Region Government, which is clearly another good reason to request the postponement of the seismic surveys – along with the arguments given by the panel,” said Dmitry Lyitsin, Chairman of the Council, Sakhalin Environment Watch.
The NGOs have been campaigning for years to save the remaining western gray whales, which currently number just 150. Along with calls for a very cautious approach to seismic surveys, the organizations have been trying to prevent the development of a new pier in the Piltun lagoon, which poses a real risk to whales through greater noise, pollution and shipping.