Shell poses unacceptable oil spill threat



Posted on 28 April 2006  | 
Gland, Switzerland – The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should demand effective environmental protection measures for oil spills from Shell or decline funding for its Sakhalin project, says WWF.

Currently, Shell's oil and gas project in Russia's Far East will expose a highly endangered whale population and a pristine arctic environment to unacceptable risks from marine oil spills that could last for years.

A WWF new report — Offshore Oil Spill Response in Dynamic Ice Conditions — concludes that the highly dynamic sea ice conditions around Shell’s Sakhalin operation, which can last for more than six months of the year, would mean that the company would not be able to respond to an oil spill for half of the year or longer. Traditional oil spill response methods are rendered impotent because of the predominant sea ice and prevailing weather conditions. WWF commissioned the report from independent oil and gas experts.

“It is shocking to see that in the rush to develop new oil and gas supplies Shell continues to gamble with the environment,” said Paul Steele, WWF International’s Chief Operating Officer.

“This is the most difficult place on earth to have to respond to an oil spill. Even with the latest technology it would be impossible to clean up oil spills for 50 per cent of the time. Wave heights in spring and winter are often five times higher than current recovery methods can cope with.”

There is also a very real potential that any unrecovered oil would contaminate the feeding ground of the last known population of western gray whales, as well as the surrounding marine environment, for years.

In a briefing paper, Shell proposes to use natural openings, called polynyas, in the sea ice to burn off any oil spills. However these ice clearings are a vital focal area for marine life from plankton to marine mammals. Burning oil in them could have impacts on the entire food chain that Shell has not considered.

“The EBRD can not agree to fund this project, while remaining consistent with its environmental values and maintain its credibility," Steele added. "If it goes ahead and funds Sakhalin, its environmental reputation will be heavily tarnished.”

Shell has not produced oil spill models for the Sakhalin II project with sea-ice conditions. The report goes further in emphasizing that there are no existing mathematical models to predict the movement of oil in ice. Without this information the environmental impact assessment is incomplete.

The Sea of Okhotsk is one of the most challenging places to drill for oil with sea ice for six months of the year as well as dense fog, high winds and waves. However in the summer months it comes alive with a wealth of migratory species including the endangered Steller’s sea eagle and the western gray whale. Drilling for oil in such a fragile area important for wildlife is the reason why rigorous contingency plans should be in place for oil spills.

“Experts estimate that there is a 24 per cent chance of an oil spill during the lifetime of this project," said Steele.

"Oil spills this winter in Alaska and off northern Japan must act as a warning. Neither spill was detected quickly enough and neither has been cleared up. The spill off Japan has killed thousands of birds – including some endangered ones. The lack of sufficient technology to clean up a spill in icy conditions raises serious questions over Shell’s and other company’s ambitions in the Arctic.”

END NOTES:

• The EBRD are holding a consultation on whether or not they should fund Sakhalin II. This consultation was extended by a week and now closes on 28 April 2006.

• 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 pipelines cutting across 800km, 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 the total cost now doubled to over $20 billion. Since it has started construction it has broken a number of EBRD environmental and social policies.

For further information:
Olivier van Bogaert, Senior Press Officer
WWF International
Tel: +41 22 364 9554

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