New oil platform off Sakhalin – whale scientists will have a say

07 January 2011 | News story

The oil and gas company Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (Sakhalin Energy) announced on December 4th its intention to begin planning for construction of a third offshore oil and gas platform in the Piltun-Astokh field along the coast of Sakhalin Island, eastern Russia. As this platform would be located near the primary feeding ground of the endangered western gray whale population, Sakhalin Energy requested the advice of an independent panel of scientists, convened by IUCN, to minimize risks to the whale population.

The western gray whale population is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Only about 130 animals remain, including perhaps 30 mature females. Western gray whales feast throughout the summer and autumn in Russian waters where oil and gas development represents a significant threat to the population’s survival and recovery.

Randall Reeves, Chairman of the independent scientific panel, commented: “We are disappointed to learn that the already large footprint of industrial development on this biologically rich part of the planet may soon get even larger. If, however, the global demand for hydrocarbon energy supplies dictates that there will be more of such development, it is vital that we push the developers to proceed in a precautionary way and protect not only the gray whales but also the seals, birds, fish and other wildlife that depend on the region’s natural productivity.”

Since 2004, Sakhalin Energy has joined forces with IUCN to minimize potential risks from the company’s operations to the western gray whale population. In 2006, at the request of Sakhalin Energy, IUCN convened a long-term independent scientific panel (the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel - WGWAP) to advise the company on a regular basis and strengthen its monitoring and mitigation efforts.

On the first day of the 9th meeting of the WGWAP (4-6 December 2010, Geneva, Switzerland) Sakhalin Energy announced its plans to construct another offshore oil and gas platform. In doing so, the company indicated that it will continue to rely on the WGWAP for advice in assessing and addressing the added risks to western gray whales.

“This request from Sakhalin Energy builds on over 6 years of collaboration between the company, scientists and IUCN,” says Finn Larsen, Programme Officer, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme. “However, it is the first time that the WGWAP will be providing advice at such an early stage in the planning of an offshore platform. This should ensure that best practices are maintained through the whole development process and it is a good example of how industry and the conservation community can work together to minimize the impacts on an endangered species.”

For more information, please visit: www.iucn.org/wgwap

Contacts:
Finn Larsen, Programme Officer, IUCN Marine and Polar Programme, finn.larsen@iucn.org
Beatrice Riche, Logistics and Communications Officer, IUCN Marine and Polar Programme, beatrice.riche@iucn.org