Oil company BP is planning to drill for gas on the edge of the world’s largest cold-water coral reef, despite risks of biodiversity loss and global warming.
The British company is targeting an area near the coral reef off the coast of Senegal and Mauritania in west Africa for its fossil fuel project, which has been described as the ‘first step’ in a series of developments in the region.
The 580km-long reef is crucial to threatened sharks, turtles and whales, as well as being close to a key area for millions of birds migrating between the bottom of Africa and the Arctic.
Drilling is expected to produce gas in two years’ time, but an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) seen by The Independent, in collaboration with Unearthed and SourceMaterial, explains that an eruption of a well used in the production process could lead to a spill of condensate, a liquid byproduct of natural gas.
The assessment notes the chances of a spill are ‘extremely rare,’ but it warns that if it were to happen it could prove lethal or damaging to the surrounding ecosystems.
In a statement about the project, a BP spokesperson stated the company wants to ‘help conserve the marine ecosystem in Mauritania and Senegal’ and noted the assessment was ‘approved by the governments and regulators of both Mauritania and Senegal when the project was sanctioned for development.’
BP is also said to be developing an additional biodiversity action plan for the project alongside ‘scientists and other stakeholders,’ which will utilise the latest scientific data and allow it to ‘identify and implement appropriate biodiversity-related mitigation and management measures for the project.’
The spokesperson added: ‘We are working to set up an independent scientific panel of national and international scientists for peer review of our plans.’
BP has not provided a forecast on how much gas it could produce through the developments, but an independent estimate from research firm Rystad Energy found it could produce around 40 trillion cubic feet of gas over the next 30 years if approved.
This amount of gas would produce 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2 when burned, equating to between 0.3% and 1% of the remaining global ‘carbon budget’ world leaders have agreed on to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The plans have been met with backlash from environmentalists, with Mohamed Adow, director of think tank Power Shift Africa, describing further fossil fuel development as a ‘major threat to Africa’s food security, water security and public health.’
He told The Independent any future oil or gas drilling will ‘ultimately undermine our livelihoods and development,’ adding: ‘We can’t excuse a company like BP, at a time when it seems to be taking climate change more seriously, simultaneously bankrolling a project that may end up having a big impact on Africa’s carbon footprint and future.’
The first phase of the project has already been approved and BP has since begun construction work in the area, though it hopes to operate for at least 30 years in the west Africa region if given the approval to do so.
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