Wetlands International is very concerned about the permission for Exxon and Rosneft for oil exploration in the Russian Arctic Sea. The area designated overlaps with two protected natural areas. Officially oil exploration is banned in these areas.
Last Tuesday, Exxon Mobil Corp and the Russian oil company Rosneft signed an agreement to extract oil and gas from the Kara Sea in the Russian Arctic as well in the Black Sea.
Protected natural areas
In the Arctic Kara Sea, the agreement provides access to the East Prinovozemelskiy License Blocks east of Nova Zembla. This is a sea area of 126,000 square kilometers with water depths between 50 and 150 meters. This area overlaps with the National Park ‘Russian Arctic’ and the regional protected area “Yamalsky refugia (zakaznik)”. For both applies that oil exploration is forbidden, making the agreement in fact illegal.
Very sensitive area
Oil production is complicated due to the harsh conditions in the Arctic, increasing the risks for calamities. The Arctic environment is very sensitive for even small oil spills. Due to the low temperatures, the environment has a slow recovery from disturbances. The arctic is an internationally important natural area for sea mamals, fish and as breeding site for millions of waders and geese. Local impacts on these natural resources will be felt elsewhere in the world as a large part of the wildlife is migratory.
Wetlands International is very concerned about the general rush for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. Other recent examples are the first offshore operations of Gazpromneft in the Arctic (Prirazlomnoye) and the plans of Shell in Alaska.
Recent Oilspill Response Plans for work in the Arctic like the Cairns Energy’s plan for activities off Greenland demonstrate how many of the identified risks are not well manageable. Recent disasters like BP’s Macondo Well incident in the Gulf of Mexico but also smaller accidents like the recent leaks at Shell’s Gannet Alpha oil platform flow line in the North Sea are evidence of the fact that spills are to be expected. Wetlands International demands that vulnerable areas in the Arctic are excluded from oil and gas exploration and production. This applies especially also for areas designated for nature protection. Such a ban can only be reconsidered if risks for spills are significantly reduced and the manageability of potential impacts strongly enhanced.
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*photos Ward Hagemeijer, 2011; taken in Nenetsky arctic reserve
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