Extracting responsibly | WWF

Every stage of oil and gas exploration and exploitation can have detrimental effects on ecosystems on land and at sea: parts of the seabed are degraded, coastal areas are cleared, underwater noise injures marine mammals and oil spills can occur at any time.

Meanwhile, expanding seabed mining activities could affect hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of seabed, destroying virtually unknown deep sea habitats and organisms at a massive scale.

To reduce and manage the negative impact of these industries, WWF is taking steps to ensure they are tightly controlled and do not affect critical ecological functions–and the people who rely on them.

A WWF Norway staff member observes the Godafoss oil tanker, which has run aground near Oslo.

© WWF Norway

Without credible governance and regulatory frameworks, large-scale underwater extraction activities should just not take place.

Negative impacts of oil and gas activities go far beyond the drilling sites. Deep-water harbours, pipelines and platforms are built on land and at sea, while tanker traffic increases the risks of incidents and oil spills occurring. Impacts of oil spills such as the one from the Exxon Valdez are still visible 20 years later.

These risks, coupled with the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification associated with fossil fuel exploitation, makes this a priority area for action.

1/3 of oil and 1/4 of natural gas consumed today comes from underwater sources
Undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves in the arctic
Issued licenses for seabed exploitation

What WWF is doing

Businesses that extract resources from the ocean are just some of a multitude of ocean users. To reduce risks to epicentres of biodiversity and fragile ecosystems, or conflict with other industries such as fisheries and tourism, careful planning is needed.

WWF takes a ‘big picture’ view of ocean conservation—one that involves reconciling the priorities of different users while reducing their impacts on biodiversity, food security and livelihoods. We call this approach integrated ocean management.

Our areas of focus


While the impacts of the oil & gas industry and sea bed mining must be minimized, ultimately WWF's goal is for the world to develop an equitable, low carbon economy by 2050. Among others, this involves promoting renewable energy sources – like wind, solar, and geothermal power.

Find out more ►

Protecting places that are critically important for biodiversity and livelihoods from the impacts of drillings:

The north-west Pacific gray whale is severely threatened by the development of a major oil and gas field in Russia's Okhotsk Sea. © WWF

Keeping the Arctic safe

The Arctic is estimated to hold the world's largest remaining untapped gas reserves and some of its largest undeveloped oil reserves. These reserves, if tapped, could have negative implications for the global climate, and for the Arctic environment. This is why WWF is asking governments to handle Arctic development responsibly.

Find out how ►

Interactive map of human and environmental activities in the Arctic ►

Making oil and gas projects safer by advocating for:

Fire aboard the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico, April 2010. © WWF
  • Studies to assess the environmental and social risks posed by industrial activities. Such assessments (SEAs, EIAs) can then help to determine if these activities can proceed, and if yes, under what conditions, so that their risks are mitigated.
  • Greater transparency on oil and gas bids, licenses, development plans, and environmental assessments
  • Greater liability to make sure companies are held accountable and bear full responsibility in case of oil spills and other damage
  • Frameworks for oil and gas development which ensure negligible risk, move toward zero-discharge and zero-harm, and include associated infrastructure/transport development.

Assessing the risks of seabed mining

Deep sea cirrate octopod (Sauroteuthis syrtensis) from 800m depth, Atlantic. © WWF
The impacts of seabed mining are not well known. In the absence of proof that the industry can be safely managed in terms of its ecosystem impacts, WWF advocates for halting the ‘gold rush’ and calls on the International Seabed Authority and nations to apply the precautionary principle.

WWF is convinced that such activities should not be carried out until:
  • it can be shown that mining activities will not irreparably damage the deep-water environment
  • regulation is implemented which allows for recovery and the intact functioning of such ecosystems.
ACTION: With WWF's help, about 800,000 people and NGOs protest against seabed mining ►