Exxon urged to abandon actions which threaten last critically endangered whales in their vital feeding ground

Exxon urged to abandon actions which threaten last  critically endangered whales
Friday, 23 December, 2016
Moscow, Russia

Results of independent monitoring confirm violations by Exxon in its transportation of cargo off Sakhalin Island, Russia

 

Animal welfare and conservation groups are calling on oil giant Exxon to halt operations which threaten the last  western gray whales whose number were estimated to be 150-200 whales in 2016 off Sakhalin Island in Russia, as they presented evidence of numerous company violations of environmental security requirements over its activities in the region.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), WWF Russia and Sakhalin Environment Watch have sent a report containing the results of public monitoring of transport operations by the Exxon oil company to Rosprirodnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation) and Exxon Neftegas Limited company. 

The findings come from independent monitoring of the Sakhalin-1 Project carried out at Piltun Bay this summer. The report cites cases of wildlife violation by the operator of the Sakhalin-1 Project. Researchers found Exxon Neftegaz Limited repeatedly violated the requirements of both the project documentation and the company’s Marine Mammal Protection Plan. 

Transportation of cargo to Piltun Bay was carried out in the period from June 14 through August 12, 2016, using a total of 11 towed barges. Public environmental organisations monitored these operations both on site from the shore and through the use of the Marine Traffic online vessel tracking system. 

Specifically, the number of tugboats used by the company simultaneously comprised eight tugboats instead of five. The traffic was most intense during the night, in a thick fog, when such operations should be restricted to a minimum in conditions of reduced visibility.

Tug boats navigated at a speed of 10 to 13 knots, exceeding the speed limit of 5 kn. The traffic was not restricted to the maritime navigation corridor with the width of 1 km; the tug boats with towed barges intensely navigated outside the maritime corridor, repeatedly moving along the most sensitive sea areas located south of the bay that served as feeding grounds for the dense aggregations of female gray whales with their calves. Tug boats were observed moving within those areas up to 20 km north. Identified transport operations were mostly carried out at night.

All these factors contributed to a higher risk of collision between the vessels and whales, affected implementation of measures to reduce the impacts of maritime navigation vessels on the gray whales, and sharply increased the disturbance effect, with the noise driving the whales away from their most important feeding ground. The study of the current distribution of marine mammals shows that most animals, particularly females with their offspring, have abandoned the most important and rich part of their underwater feeding ground located at the entrance to Piltun Bay and moved far to the south.

At least seven towed barges are planned to be used in the habitat of the gray whales in 2017, so public environmental organisations are appealing to Rosprirodnadzor to consider the observed violations and reverse the decision on the positive conclusion of the state environment impact assessment for the transportation project.

In addition, ecologists addressed the Exxon NL company with the proposal to develop a separate project to modify their transport operations. The proposal suggests that the goods would be discharged in the port of Moscalvo on the northwest coast of Sakhalin and carried to the Piltun spit on existing roads.

“If the company makes this decision, it will not only bring great benefit for the conservation of whales but will also significantly contribute to the workload of the local port, modernisation of roads, and employment generation for local communities,” says Dmitry Lysitsin, Head of Sakhalin Environment Watch.

“Scientific expeditions by IFAW aimed at studying the gray whales and carried out in Piltun Bay in summer seasons has collected much scientific evidence demonstrating that violations of the requirements of ecological security pose a real threat to the survival of the population of this rare endangered whale,” says Dr. Masha Vorontsova, IFAW’s Regional Director for Russia and CIS. “Only through the concerted efforts of conservation organisations, the public and the oil industry can we manage and conserve the unique western population of gray whales.”

“We expect the process of strategic environment assessment (SEA) to serve as an important tool in the reduction of ecological risks to gain legislative support in the Year of Ecology in Russia,” says Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Programme Manager for Environmental Policy in Energy Economy. “If SEAs were applied at the earliest stages of the development of Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects many ecological conflicts could be prevented.”

The plans on cargo transportation through Piltun Bay published by Exxon NL back in 2013 prompted sharp public criticism. It was the first case in the 20-year long history of the Sakhalin shelf development when intense navigation with the use of the most noisy vessels, tug boats, was planned within the Piltun feeding ground of the endangered western population of gray whales.

In total, 18 barges, each carrying a cargo of 3,000 tonnes, were planned to navigate from the Sea of Okhotsk to Piltun Bay in the summer seasons of 2016 and 2017. It was very hard for Exxon Neftegaz Limited to be granted a positive conclusion with the state environmental impact assessment (EIA), while the conclusion of the public assessment was negative.

Ends

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Elena Averianova at laverianova@ifaw.org or call +7 903 003 25 25.

Notes to Editors:

IFAW Sea of Okhotsk (Western) Gray Whale Research Expedition

Since the year 2000 IFAW has worked on the study and conservation of the unique Sea of Okhotsk (Western) gray whale population which currently contains between 150 and 200 individuals, nearly all of whom have been individually photographed, named and catalogued by the IFAW research team. The results of the IFAW research to date show that reproduction in this population can fail in years of high disturbance. In 2001 IFAW initiated a coalition of environmental organisations with the purpose of protecting the gray whale from dangerous impacts of oil and gas exploration off the northwestern coast of Sakhalin Island. More than 50 international and Russian NGOs including IFAW, WWF-Russia, Greenpeace-Russia, PERC and Regional Public Organisation Sakhalin Environment Watch voiced a unified position. As a result, an oil pipeline due to be laid through the gray whale feeding ground was re-routed around it.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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