Shell ‘ignoring rare whales’

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Shell’s troubled Sakhalin II oil and gas project has received a further blow, after it was accused of ignoring the advice of a panel of scientists on protecting the rare Western Grey Whale.

Funding from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other international bodies is contingent on the project adhering to the recommendations of the scientists.

The project, sited off Russia’s pacific coast and run by a consortium headed by Shell, involves undersea infrastructure which crosses the only known breeding ground of the Western Gray Whale. Only an estimated 122 whales are left, and the scientific panel says that the population is on track for extinction.

A report by the Western Gray Whale advisory panel says that Sakhalin Energy did not follow its recommendation to monitor the effect of construction noise on the whale population at the same time as it began construction.

In addition, although scientists employed by the consortium had apparently made significant efforts to monitor the whales, the data presented to the panel was not sufficient to work out whether the noise was affecting them.

Robert Napier, WWF-UK chief executive, said: “Shell has ignored the expert panel’s recommendations and exposed the whales to excessive noise.

This is yet another breach of EBRD environmental criteria, crucial to the Bank agreeing to support Sakhalin.

When will the Bank move to protect its own reputation by disassociating itself from Sakhalin II?”

James Leaton, WWF oil and gas officer, added: “How does the company expect to respond to an oil spill in this region if it cannot even get whale monitoring teams there?”

Both the EBRD and the UK government have said they will only finance the project if the panel’s recommendations are taken on board.

Shell has come under increasing pressure in recent months over the environmental impact of the project.

Other concerns have been raised over the impact of infrastructure on the island of Sakhalin itself, including the consequences for its rivers, which are a breeding ground for wild salmon.

The Russian environment agency is expected to produce a report this week, listing a history of violations of environmental regulations associated with the project.

Some argue that the environmental objections are merely leverage to force Shell to transfer a share of its interest in Sakhalin II to Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom.

However Doug Norlen, spokesman for San Francisco-based campaign group Pacific Enviroment, said: “Sakhalin II’s chronic environmental problems have been independently documented by Russian and international environmental groups for nearly a decade, Shell cannot dismiss these charges as a fabrication of the Russian government.”

Shell did not respond to requests for comment before EFP Online went to press on Thursday afternoon.

Source: Environmental Finance