Oceanographic teams up with the Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling

To combat the support for new oil and gas developments by the UK Government, the Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling was founded at the end of 2023. Oceanographic has partnered with the organisation to spread the word about its important mission.

Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Clyde Thomas and Christoffer Engstrom

After the UK Government announced new oil and gas exploration projects in the North Sea last autumn, a new group, the Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling, has formed to point out the associated risk to marine wildlife, coastlines, and coastal communities. The alliance, which includes NGOs such as Oceana, Greenpeace, the Blue Marine Foundation, Whale & Dolphin Conservation, and Surfers Against Sewage alongside academics and businesses like Finisterre and Oceanographic Magazine, says these impacts are being largely ignored, at grave risk to ocean ecosystems and coastal communities.

According to a press release by Oceana, 40% of the new licences for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea are within marine protected areas, with the potential to cause devastation to wildlife and habitats that are vital to ocean health, campaigners say. An open letter to the prime minister, urging him to reconsider, signed by numerous marine conservation organisations from within the UK and beyond, read: “These new potential new developments would further damage, destroy and pollute some of our most productive and biodiverse seas for decades to come, seriously diminishing the ocean’s ability to protect us from the impacts of climate change and compromising natural, functioning, ecosystems that we all rely on.”

Besides exacerbating the climate crisis, oil and gas developments cause direct harm to UK wildlife, the alliance states. Even before the drilling begins, seismic airgun surveys, used in the exploration phase, can emit loud noises that are known to affect marine wildlife negatively.

Furthermore, the developments can cause major oil spills, routine spillages (in the past decade, over half of the oil accidentally spilled by UK offshore oil and gas operations ended up in marine protected areas), release toxic chemicals, and even microplastics. Estimates suggest that over 100 tonnes of microplastics were released into the North Sea by oil and gas operations in 2016 alone, estimates suggest.

This combined cocktail of pollution puts wildlife at risk of impaired breeding, disrupted feeding and death. Sperm whales, orca and beaked whales in the Northeast Faroe Shetland Channel MPA are just some of the wildlife that would be threatened by this wave of chemical and noise pollution brought by the new licences.

On the seafloor, the direct destruction metered out by the extraction process also threatens rare and unique wildlife. The East of Gannet and Montrose MPA, also under threat from the licences, is designed to protect the quahog clam, one of the longest-lived animals known to man, which can live for over 500 years. Drilling would destroy these communities, alongside ancient cold-water corals and rare deep-sea sponges. As well as capturing and storing carbon – an important tool in tackling global heating – species such as these provide vital fish spawning grounds.

Executive Director of Oceana UK Hugo Tagholm said: “Big Oil seems hell bent on destroying UK’s beautiful and unique ocean life for a quick profit – and in an act of wanton environmental vandalism, our government is inviting them in. Habitats and species that are critical for ocean health will be razed to the ground, and alongside this direct destruction, an unending flow of chronic pollution will threaten sea life, from plankton to whales.

“In building this alliance, we are raising the alarm before it is too late, we are showing that these new licences will not improve UK energy security or lower our energy bills, but they will do irrevocable damage to our seas. Ever deeper developments also increase the risks of a major oil spill that could devastate coastlines, beaches, and coastal economies including fishing and tourism. I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow NGOs, academics and businesses to tell the government that we don’t want or need new oil and gas developments.

“And it’s not just us: Three quarters of people in the UK are opposed to oil and gas developments in protected areas of the sea, polling has shown. Let’s end this now.”

Brendan Godley, professor of Conservation Science at the University of Exeter said: “It is disappointing to see that as a country, our government is moving us further away from our net zero targets while many citizens are working for positive change. We need to be doubling down on our moves towards increased renewable energy, better insulated homes, more efficient food production, better public transport, and restoring nature – not pumping more oil and gas from the North Sea! Many of these moves will also improve our lives and create jobs as well as helping us avoid the costs of the worst impacts of future climate change.”

As Parliament has just voted in favour of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill on Monday, 22nd January, the Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling has today announced its first online action that will enable the public to contact their Member of Parliament in Westminster and ask them to endorse the Ocean Alliance’s core aim: to end new offshore oil and gas developments to protect our ocean.

Ask your MP now to join the fight and add their voice to the campaign to end new drilling in UK seas here.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here


Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Clyde Thomas and Christoffer Engstrom

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