Judicial review launched as oil project threatens whales

Environmental groups have launched a judicial review into the UK’s support for an oil and gas project that threatens an endangered whale species.

The WWF and The Corner House have challenged the decision by the UK’s Export Credit Agency to award provisional guarantees worth $1bn for work done by two British sub-contractors working on Royal Dutch Shell’s Sakhalin-2 oil-and-gas project.

They claim that the conditional guarantees for the $10bn project - to build two platforms linked by offshore pipelines on existing gas and oil fields off the far eastern coast of Russia - were awarded without a proper environmental impact assessment or consultation.

The WWF have monitored the area for five years and claim that the project threatens the critically endangered Western Pacific grey whale. The Sakhalin-2 oil platforms are located in the middle of the whales’ only known summer feeding grounds. Royal Dutch Shell has ignored the recommendations of an independent panel of whale experts, who have set noise limits to prevent construction of the platforms displacing the whales.

James Leapon, a spokesperson from the WWF, told the Ecologist that: “If you deprive some of the whales of their feeding area, they may not come back next year.” He said pregnant females are at worst risk of starvation.

The WWF are also concerned about the longer-term impacts of the project, including the risk of oil spills. The area is ice-covered for half the year and it is almost impossible to clean oil from broken ice. The project also threatens other wildlife including the endangered Taimen salmon - the huge pipelines being constructed along with the platforms will cut across 1000 rivers, disrupting their course and preventing the salmon from reaching their spawning grounds. Local, indigenous people, who depend on more common salmon species for their survival, will also be threatened.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist August 2007