Oil & gas: Establishing no-go areas

WWF's Global Marine Programme is working to obtain commitments from the oil and gas industry that it will not work in or near Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
High demand for oil and gas pushes the industry to exploit unconventional sources and geographical frontiers, such as the Arctic.

But no operator can guarantee that there will not be a spill - and even in ideal conditions oil spills leave their mark.

Geographical frontiers in particular are highly sensitive, and have the lowest level of capacity to clean up an accident.

This makes it unacceptable to expose such areas to oil and gas exploration and development with current industrial technology and governance regimes.

WWF's postion
If corporate responsibility is to be credible, then the oil and gas industry must act responsibly and not set a bad example to others by entering areas which are not appropriate for development. We also believe that impact and risk are separate and that in some areas, oil operations are too high a risk to accept.

Identifying areas at risk

At present, just 0.6% of the world's oceans are designated as MPAs. We are therefore advocating for the identification worldwide of areas of high conservation value (for example, on account of their biodiversity, productivity, critical habitats, or rare and threatened species) which are particularly sensitive to or at risk from oil & gas developments, including exploration. These areas should then be included in representative networks of MPAs.

Keeping out of MPAs

It's not enough to simply designate MPAs - companies and governments must also accept that these protected sites are no-go areas for oil and gas exploration and development.

We are therefore engaging directly with companies with the aim of altering their policy with regard to MPAs. We are also working with governments to ensure that MPAs are adequately protected and managed.

In addition, we are working towards the recognition of no-go areas as a management tool within international and regional frameworks for the management of marine areas. These include UNEP Regional Seas Programmes; the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic; and the Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area.
 / ©: United States Coast Guard
Fire aboard the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico, April 2010.
© United States Coast Guard
The Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 starkly highlighted the enormous impact that offshore drilling accidents can have on biodiversity and the livelihoods of coastal communities.
Working in priority areas
WWF has identified a number of priority marine places where we particularly believe the oil and gas industry should stay out of sensitive areas, and where MPAs should be established. Examples of our work in these regions include:

  • Arctic: WWF has long campaigned for the Norwegian government to designate the Lofoten Islands as a petroleum-free zone, as well as against the building offshore platforms and pipelines in the feeding grounds of a critically endangered population of gray whales off Russia's remote Sakhalin Island. 

    Other no-go Arctic areas include Alsaka's Bristol Bay and Russia's West Kamchatka Shelf, both of which are home to vital commerical fisheries and important biodiversity.

  • West Africa: WWF is working with the government, industry, and civic leaders in Nigeria to minimize the risks of oil and gas development to vital fisheries, tourism, and community assets.

  • West Indian Ocean: WWF is working with the Malagasy government to promote equity and transparency in developing offshore oil and gas fields in order to protect threatened coral reefs, mangroves, and fishing zones. The government has recently endorsed measures to broaden public participation in oil-related negotiations and ascribe to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Priority marine no-go places for the oil & gas industry

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