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Respecting the natural environment
Far below some of the planet’s deepest oceans lie vast reservoirs of oil and gas. But developing them must be done with care to avoid disturbing marine life and the local livelihoods that depend on it.
Over 350 kilometres (225 miles) from the Texas shore, a giant metal structure rises out of the water. Perdido, moored in 2,450 metres (8,000 feet) of water in the US Gulf of Mexico, is further from land – or another installation – than any other oil and gas platform. In this remote location, marine life thrives. Our remotely-operated submarines have caught rarely seen creatures – such as big fin squid – on camera.
As part of our efforts to minimise the impact of our activities, we laid the pipeline that carries oil and natural gas from Perdido along a route that avoids disturbing other deep-sea inhabitants. These included colony-pale crabs that feed on oil seeping naturally from the sea floor.
North-east of Perdido lies the Cardamom Deep project. We are reducing the environmental impact of this underwater development – which is expected to start production in 2014 – by retrofitting the nearby Auger platform instead of introducing a new platform.
The huge structures needed for deep-water production must be carefully disposed of once a field’s production comes to an end. We support an initiative that gives oil and gas companies the option to turn decommissioned offshore oil and gas platforms into permanent habitats for fish and other sea life. The so-called rigs-to-reefs programme is facilitated through a partnership of the US federal government and Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana and Texas.
Decommissioned structures are transformed into reefs in place or divers sever them from their foundations for specially-built hoist ships to lift and move them to shallower areas. Marine organisms attach themselves to the structures, transforming them into artificial reefs that provide food and shelter for breeding sea life.
We are also finding ways to reduce our impact in new areas. Gumusut-Kakap is our first deep-water development in Malaysia and is helping to support the country’s economic prosperity. We are working to develop these economic benefits for the long term. For example, we are injecting the natural gas produced with the oil back into the reservoir, rather than flaring it,to boost oil production.
Shell and The Nature Conservancy are researching ways of constructing artificial reefs using oysters
In addition to the steps we take to assess and limit the potential impact of our deep-water operations, we support initiatives to protect areas onshore. Storms and high tides are eroding the Louisiana shoreline, for example, threatening homes and livelihoods. Our support efforts include partnering with The Nature Conservancy, a non-governmental organisation, to create artificial oyster reef beds. The beds act as a breakwater, protecting wetlands and the freshwater oysters and shrimps that provide local livelihoods.
Marine life is also a vital source of income for fishermen in Malaysia. Located off the coast of Sabah, the Gumusut-Kakap project is surrounded by yellow-fin tuna. Locals were concerned that the project would disturb the tuna they catch to eat and sell. To help address this, Shell and the Sabah Department of Fisheries are working together on a project that uses artificial floating devices to attract fish to alternative areas.
Understanding marine mammals and sea life
As part of our work to understand more about any potential impact on marine life our Brazilian Parque das Conchas project may have, we have funded research into humpback whales. We provided $2.2 million between 2002 and 2013 to the Scientific Institute Aqualie, a Brazilian non-profit organisation, for an electronic tagging programme that has revealed details about the whales’ migration routes.
“Thanks to our findings, the government can evaluate what percentage of habitat areas are protected,” says Alexandre Zerbini from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is leading the programme. “This allows them to take action to protect the whales.”
Similarly, in Malaysia, we funded the first national dolphin research and conservation programme along the Sarawak coastline in 2008, run by academics and scientists. We also provided financial support for research focusing on orang-utans in the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.