Marine problems: Oil & gas | WWF

Important reserves of oil and gas are located under the sea floor in many parts of the world.

However, prospecting, drilling, and transport can seriously damage sensitive marine areas and disturb marine species.

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Oil rig, Gulf of Mexico, Texas, US. rel= © WWF / Michael SUTTON

Valuable areas under threat
In many cases, oil and gas exploration and drilling is permitted in or near Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). WWF believes that the threat posed by oil developments - and the oil and gas industry's track record in often failing to protect the environment adequately - makes such developments too big a risk to be allowed near or in MPAs.

However, even if exploration and drilling were prohibited in and around all marine parks and reserves, many areas of high conservation value would still be vulnerable - less than 1% of the world’s oceans has been declared as MPAs.

Lack of planning and control
At present, environmental concerns are not always routinely considered in plans for offshore oil and gas exploration and development. Environmental impacts are often inadequately assessed, and the assumption is usually that developments will go ahead in all areas, regardless of their ecological value.

In addition, many companies operate to different environmental and social standards depending upon the county in which they are working. In some developing countries, this means that even the most basic environmental requirements are not followed.

Another problem is that decommissioning of infrastructure is rarely considered. Many exploration wells will only have a limited life, sometimes as little as one to three months, but their construction can have a long-lasting impact. Environmental disruption would be reduced if planning for decommissioning was considered during the design process.  

The extraction of oil, gas, and minerals from the Earth's crust currently provides most of the energy and resources needed to run our society.

To meet our ever-increasing energy demands, the extractive industries are increasingly moving into new areas - including remote areas with fragile ecosystems and unique biodiversity, where governments often have limited capacity to protect the environment or the people who live there.

Whales for oil?

A critically endangered population of gray whale is under threat from oil and gas developments.

Drilling platform in gray whale habitat, off Sakhalin Island, Russian Federation. © WWF
The offshore waters of Russia's remote island of Sakhalin are home to a critically endangered population of gray whale (Eschrictius robustus).

Only around 130 individuals remain, and only 25-35 reproductive females capable of bearing calves. The death of just one female each year would be enough to drive this Western Pacific gray whale population to extinction.

Despite this, there are plans to build offshore platforms and pipelines in and through the sole feeding grounds of the whales as part of an extensive oil and gas extraction programme.

WWF does not support this project. It not only risks condemning the Western Pacific gray whale population to extinction, but also brings too little economic benefit to local people and raises serious concerns for the ecology of the region.

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