African Reserves

BP plans to drill fossil gas at the edge of the world’s largest cold-water coral reef

BP plans to drill for fossil gas at the edge of the world’s largest cold-water coral reef, increasing the risk of biodiversity loss, global warming and toxic fuel spills.

The British oil giant has started construction on a fossil fuel project near the 580 km long coral ecosystem off the coast of West Africa, which is in an area crucial to migratory waterbirds, as well as endangered sharks, turtles and whales, according to a survey by Unearthed and SourceMaterial shared with The independent.

The project is the “first step” in a series of developments in the region which, if approved, aim to produce around 40 trillion cubic feet of gas over the next 30 years, according to an independent estimate by Rystad Energy, a research company.

When burned, this amount of gas would produce 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2, nearly double the annual energy emissions of the entire African continent. In global terms, this equates to between 0.3 and 1% of the remaining “carbon budget” to keep global temperature rise 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels.

A BP spokesperson said he was unable to comment on Rystad’s projections and declined to provide his own forecast.

BP has already pledged to cut emissions to net zero by 2050 and cut oil and gas production by 40% within a decade. The oil company is also a partner in Prince Charles’ Terra Carta initiative, which aims to “bring prosperity into harmony with nature”.

Last month, a major assessment by the world’s energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency, said there can be no further expansion of fossil fuels in any country beyond 2021 if global climate goals are to be met.

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a think tank based in Nairobi, Kenya, described the continued development of fossil fuels as a “major threat to food security, water security and public health. Africa ”.

Any future oil or gas drilling “will ultimately undermine our livelihoods and our development,” he said. The independent.

“We cannot excuse a company like BP, at a time when it appears to be taking climate change more seriously, while simultaneously funding a project that could end up having a big impact on the carbon footprint and the future of the company. ‘Africa. “

BP’s fossil gas development threatens vast cold-water coral reef off the coasts of Mauritania and Senegal

(TL, Sven Loven Center, Uni Göteborg)

The independentThe Stop Fueling the Climate Crisis campaign highlights UK support for fossil fuels ahead of Cop26, a major climate summit to be held in Glasgow in November.

BP’s Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project will develop a new gas field 2.7 km below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Senegal and Mauritania. Such a deep drilling project has never been attempted before in Africa, but previous research shows that gas production in the high seas can cause lasting damage to fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs.

The first 20-year phase of the project has already been approved, and the drilling is expected to produce gas in two years. This is one of three developments in BP’s West African region pipeline, where it hopes to operate for at least 30 years if it is successful in gaining approval.

An environmental and social impact study (ESIA) carried out for the project, seen by The independent, Unearthed and SourceMaterial, states that a blowout from a well used in the production process could lead to a spill of condensate, a liquid by-product of natural gas.

Although he says the chances of a spill occurring are “extremely rare,” he warns that such an event could prove fatal or damaging to the unique ecosystems surrounding the project site, according to the assessment.

The area chosen for the project is close to key sites along the East Atlantic Flyway, a major migratory route for millions of birds traveling between the bottom of Africa and the Arctic. Birds using the route include Eurasian spoonbills, gray plovers and red knot.

Eurasian spoonbills are one of the many species that travel along the East Atlantic Flyway

(Getty Images / iStockphoto)

The gas project is also just 5 km from Diawling National Park, which is home to 250 different bird species as well as monkeys, warthogs and monitor lizards. It is a similar distance from the Marine Protected Area of ​​St. Louis, a key site for local fishing and the feeding of whales and dolphins.

Without careful management, BP’s construction and drilling operations could threaten these important wildlife hotspots and the livelihoods of local fishing communities, said Sandra Kloff, a consulting marine biologist who has worked in the area for 25 years. years. The independent.

She added that the region’s wildlife is already facing great threats from overfishing by international companies.

“Since the 1980s, it has been a total wild west for biodiversity off this northwestern coast of Africa despite scientific evidence that this region is the most important feeding area for the charismatic fauna of the region. ‘Atlantic Ocean – and despite the fact that these waters are home to the longest mounds of cold water coral,’ she said The independent.

BP has previously committed to reducing damage to biodiversity by committing not to establish new oil and gas operations in Unesco World Heritage sites or in nature reserves that meet a set of criteria. specific. His Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project does not violate these rules.

Awa Traoré, ocean activist at Greenpeace Africa, said BP’s actions amounted to “greenwashing”.

“Increased production of fossil fuels will only expose communities to more damage, undermining investments in renewable energy that can effectively lift millions of people out of poverty,” she said. The independent.

“By embracing renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, African countries have the opportunity to move beyond dirty energy to meet their energy security needs, with huge potential benefits for people. “

A BP spokesperson said: “We want to help conserve the marine ecosystem in Mauritania and Senegal and the environmental and social impact assessment of the project has been approved by the governments and regulators of Mauritania and of Senegal when the project was sanctioned for development.

The spokesperson added that BP is currently developing an additional biodiversity action plan for the project alongside “scientists and other stakeholders”.

“This will incorporate the latest scientific data and allow us to identify and implement appropriate biodiversity-related mitigation and management measures for the project,” the spokesperson said.

“We are working to establish an independent scientific panel of national and international scientists for the peer review of our plans.”

They added that emissions from the first phase of the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project will be included in BP’s climate targets.

“Emissions from any other approved and developed projects would also be included as they go into service,” the spokesperson said.

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