Sakhalin II oil and gas development project

Continuously threatened by oil and gas developments, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships and occasional whaling by Japanese fishermen, the Western gray whale is on the verge of extinction.
These amazing creatures were thought to be extinct in the 1970s, but a small number - around 130 - are now known to survive. But their main feeding habitat in summer time, the waters off Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East, is a region now being developed by the oil and gas industry.
 
Last year the number of whales counted in the Piltun feeding area was lower than normal. According to experts, this may be related to underwater noise produced by oil and gas development in the area. This is cause for major concern as the population has only 25-35 breeding females remaining.

WWF is therefore urging the companies involved in Sakhalin - Exxon, Shell, Gazprom, BP and Rosneft - to postpone any development until a commission of experts have assessed the impact on Western gray whales and made recommendations about further development in this area. WWF is also demanding that the companies avoid any future activities inside the proposed new Sakhalin Marine Federal Wildlife Reserve.
The north-west Pacific gray whale is severely threatened by the development of a major oil and gas ... / ©: Greenpeace / Igor Gavrilov
Western gray whale
© Greenpeace / Igor Gavrilov

Background

Sakhalin II  is a US$10 billion oil and gas development in Far East Russia, led by the Sakhalin Energy Consortium.

The consortium has applied for project finance from the UK Export Credit Guarantee Department, the US Export-Import Bank, and the Japanese Bank for International Co-operation. These banks have now been considering the project since 2003, but have not approved finance.

 WWF and its partners have continued to raise issues with the financial institutions. There have also been demonstrations at Credit Suisse First Boston, the advisors to the project. 


Common demands
A coalition of 50 Russian NGOs, published a set of common demands in January 2003. WWF supports these demands through its Russian office, which implements conservation work in the Sea of Okhotsk region surrounding Sakhalin Island.


Gray Whales
Among the 25 marine mammal species living off-shore of Sakhalin Island are 11 endangered species including the world's most critically endangered gray whale, the Western Pacific Gray Whale.

The Gray Whale is on the endangered species lists of the U.S. and Russia, and has been recognized as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Recent scientific evidence suggests that less than 100 individuals, and possibly fewer than 20 reproductive females capable of bearing calves remain.


Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP)
Following continuing criticism of the project, Shell agreed to an independent review, convened by IUCN. The world's whale experts have since reviewed the company's proposals and found Shell's measures to be lacking a sound scientific basis.

The panel has questioned the effective of Shell's mitigation measures and found the overall approach to be far removed from the precautionary methods required. A follow up workshop has left a number of questions outstanding regarding key risks and impacts for the whales such as noise, sediment, oil spills and collisions.

Members of the ISRP have written to Shell's chief executive to urge him not to install the platform until all issues are resolved.


Controversies and flaws
The project mirrors flaws in other recent huge infrastructure projects, with local legislation undermined, and no strategic environmental assessment having been carried out.

The onshore pipeline is located in an area of high seismic activity, only 40 km from the site of the 1995 Neftegorsk earthquake. This region can experience events registering 9 on the Richter Scale (earthquake in 2000).

The pipe will cross over 1000 rivers, including waterways essential for the spawning of endangered salmon. Dredging of the site proposed for the (LNG) plant will produce 1 million tonnes of spoil which Shell intend to dump in Aniva Bay, an essential area for the local fishing industry.

Map of the Sakhalin region / ©: WWF
Map of the Sakhalin region.
© WWF

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