January 19th, 2011 by Joshua S Hill
The Sakhalin Energy Investment Company which is part owned by Shell has announced plans to build a third major oil platform in the centre of crucial feeding grounds for the North Pacific grey whale, in the Russian Far East.
Considering that Sakhalin already have two major oil platforms in the vicinity and that the North Pacific grey whale is critically endangered with only 130 whales believed to exist, this is not a sensitive move.
A large island in the North Pacific, Sakhalin is Russia’s largest island, and home to the North Pacific grey whale’s feeding ground.
“Just around 30 female western gray whales of breeding age remain – the population is already on the brink of disappearing forever,” said Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil & Gas Environmental Policy Officer for World Wildlife Fund-Russia (WWF-Russia). “The loss of even a few breeding females could mean the end for the population.”
The feeding ground must provide enough food for the whales to journey the long distance to their breeding ground, as well as provide food for newborn whales and allow their mothers to teach them how to feed off the seabed.
Already Rated Unsuitable
Conspicuously enough, Sakhalin Energy had already eliminated the need for a third platform in the area through advances in drilling technology, and had even rated the location for the third platform as unsuitable due to unstable clay at the seabed in the earthquake-prone area.
The company had acknowledged that three platforms “significantly reduces the potential for environmental impact,” according to an official Sakhalin Energy document, which was why they had stuck with two.
“We are astonished by the announcement from Sakhalin Energy that it intends to build a third platform,” said Wendy Elliott, Species Program Manager, WWF-International. “The company’s own detailed assessments concluded previously that two platforms would be preferable, both for environmental reasons and for the efficiency of the operation.”
Harming the Habitat
A plan such as this is begun with a seismic survey of the seabed, sending massive pulses of noise into the seafloor to determine if there is oil there. Three such surveys were already conducted around whale feeding habitat last summer and the scientists do not know the effect that it has had on the animals.
“We still do not know how badly the whales were affected by major seismic activity last summer – and will not know until the whales return to their feeding grounds again this year and scientists can determine if any are malnourished. It is totally inappropriate for Sakhalin Energy to plan another seismic survey in 2011 before we have the opportunity to examine the health of the animals,” said Doug Norlen, Policy Director at Pacific Environment.
“IFAW has been involved in and supported regular annual monitoring of the [Western grey whale] at their feeding grounds at Sakhalin Island since 2000,” said Masha Vorontsova, Director of IFAW Russia. “We are deeply concerned by the plans of Sakhalin Energy to install the third platform in this area, which is a critical habitat for the survival of the Western gray whale. IFAW will continue its regular monitoring of the Western gray whale feeding grounds, and activities of the oil companies at the area through summer 2011 to ensure that there are no violations of the existing regulations, which would negatively impact the Western gray whale.”
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