The 5th Report from the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) published last week expressed strong concerns about Sakhalin Energy’s inadequate collaboration on whale conservation on the Sakhalin shelf in eastern Russia. The Sakhalin shelf is not only the location of one of the largest oil and gas developments in the world, but also the principal known feeding grounds for the critically endangered western gray whales.
In 2004, Sakhalin Energy requested IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, to convene an independent scientific review panel to evaluate the Sakhalin II Phase 2 project and its potential impacts on the whales. Following the review panel’s report, the WGWAP was established in 2006. It is an independent group of scientists convened by IUCN to provide advice and recommendations to Sakhalin Energy on an ongoing basis, with the overarching goal of minimizing the impacts of the oil and gas activities on the whales that feed on the Sakhalin shelf.
The Panel and Sakhalin Energy have established a good working relationship by meeting twice a year since 2006. Sakhalin Energy is the only company presently working with the panel to conserve western gray whales even though there are other companies involved in oil and gas development on the Sakhalin shelf. At each meeting, scientific data on the whales and technical information on development activities are discussed at length. However, leading up to the 5th meeting, Sakhalin Energy failed to deliver documents sufficiently in advance to the Panel.
In the 5th Report, the Panel requests that Sakhalin Energy collaborate by providing all relevant data and information in a timely manner to be able to contribute to conservation efforts on behalf of western gray whales. When Sakhalin Energy entered the agreement with the IUCN it agreed to provide information to the Panel so that conservation recommendations could take into account all relevant data.
The WGWAP panel is an opportunity for oil companies, conservationists and governments to work together to protect the critically endangered western gray whales. If there is continued inadequate collaboration on the part of Sakhalin Energy, the WGWAP will fail and the future of the whales will be at greater risk.