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Oil and gas consortium will suspend seismic activities to protect gray whales

WWF

The Western Gray Whale is one of the world’s most endangered whales, with only 25 breeding females remaining.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Terrettaz

24 Apr 2009

Geneva, Switzerland – A major oil and gas consortium has agreed to suspend planned seismic testing off Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East, a crucial feeding area for the critically endangered Western Gray whale.

The decision followed a recommendation today by a major international scientific panel to halt further oil and gas development in and around the feeding area of the Western Gray Whale.

During a meeting of the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP), Sakhalin Energy – a partnership between Shell, Gasprom and other shareholders – agreed to cancel its proposed 2009 seismic activities, despite having already put plans in place for the work. 

The WGWAP, convened by the IUCN and comprising 11 eminent scientists, met this week with representatives of Shell, Sakhalin Energy, Russian government officials, project lenders and environmental NGOs to review the most recent science on the whales. 

The Western Gray Whale is one of the world’s most endangered whales, with only 25 breeding females remaining. The whale feeds only in the summer, and its crucial primary feeding area is offshore Piltun Bay at the north eastern part of Sakhalin shelf.

New science presented during this week’s meeting revealed a significant decline in sightings and behaviour changes of the whales in their primary feeding area near Piltun Bay. Oil and gas exploration activities in the area appear to have displaced the whales to deeper areas offshore, making it more difficult for whale calves to feed. 

Since the Western Gray Whale only feeds in the summertime, such displacement could be devastating.

However, BP, Exxon, Rosneft have ignored repeated calls to cooperate with the panel, which again today called on those companies to urgently follow the example of Sakhalin Energy.

“WWF lauds the responsible and forward looking approach taken by Sakhalin Energy in heeding this call from the panel,” said Aleksey Knizhnikov from WWF-Russia. “The results seen today demonstrate that collaborative science based initiatives like this panel process can succeed – even on issues as complex as oil and gas development”. 

“However other major operators in the area – including major international giants BP and Exxon – have completely ignored pleas to join the panel, disregarded advice on how to mitigate the impacts of their activities, and refused to provide even basic information on what their activities are in the region.” 

“Today’s decision is a victory for the Western Gray Whales, but the struggle continues. BP, Exxon and Rosneft must abandon their reckless plans that threaten the western gray whales with extinction” said Doug Norlen, from Pacific Environment, an international NGO that has monitored Sakhalin oil and gas projects for over a decade.

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