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Reuters: Shell-Led Russia Venture Vows to Protect Rare Whales

Reuters: Shell-Led Russia Venture Vows to Protect Rare Whales

“It is the most comprehensive and largest whale project funded solely by industry for whales anywhere in the world,”

Fri 13 August, 2004 09:36

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Royal Dutch/Shell -led group developing oil and gas fields in the Russian far east moved to assure worried ecologists on Friday it is doing all it can to protect rare gray whales living in the coastal waters.

Green activists have accused the oil major of endangering the future of the marine mammals by developing the oil-rich shelf near the whales’ only remaining summer feeding and migrating habitat just off Sakhalin Island.

Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd., the operator of the multi-billion dollar Sakhalin-2 project, said it and its partners would spend more than $2 million this year to monitor and protect the animals.

“It is the most comprehensive and largest whale project funded solely by industry for whales anywhere in the world,” it said in a statement.

“The objectives of the Western Gray Whale behavior study are to ascertain baseline feeding and other behaviors, and behaviors potentially affected by industrial activities.”

The 100 or so remaining gray whales can only feed from the sea bed. That restricts their feeding ground to within a few kilometers (miles) from the Sakhalin coast — the area where an underwater pipeline is due to be laid.

Shell and its partners in the project say much of the knowledge about the rare mammals is the result of its research and monitoring programs conducted in the Pacific since 1997.

The venture plans to build a seabed pipeline as well an offshore platform near Sakhalin Island. Shell also plans to build the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas plant there by 2006 and start gas shipments in 2007.

The group, which includes Japan’s Mitsui & Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Corp., says it has spent $5 million on whale projects since the late 1990s.

Sakhalin Energy said its whale research program includes acoustic monitoring work, sea bed studies, whale behavior surveys and onshore work.

“At least 10 new calves were identified in 2003 through… studies sponsored by Sakhalin Energy and partners,” it said. “While this is the highest number of calves recorded since the studies began, it is not expected again this year as these whales give birth on average once every three years. Nonetheless, the birth of so many calves last year is encouraging.”

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