How our thirst for oil may change the North Sea (again..)


Like many marine organizations, ORCA was rather blindsided by the announcement last week that the UK government will be consulting on re-opening the North Sea for oil exploration. As many as 100 different licences may be up for grabs, in large part as energy companies look to see where they can secure supply from while Russia continues to be economically frozen out of the international community.

There are, of course, a multitude of compelling reasons why we should not sleepwalk back to fossil fuels again, particularly at a moment in time when the graphic manifestation of their excessive and unrestrained use is resulting in a boiling planet. Aside from this, North Sea exploration will drive a coach and horses through the years of patient evidence building that in turn led to marine areas being protected from exactly the sort of disturbance that will now take place.

ORCA has put its name to an open letter to the prime minister, drawn up by our friends at Oceana, which details how 40% of the licence areas under consideration sit either partially or completely within Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protection Areas. These aren’t areas whose status can be chopped or changed so as to service short-term needs - the reason why they were afforded protection in the first place was to protect them from this sort of exploitative thinking. We can almost second-guess the arguments - a balance has to be struck between the protections afforded to marine habitats and the wider economic needs and reality of the time in which we live. That is another way of saying, “Well.... when we didn’t need the oil, we were OK with protecting the North Sea. But we do now, so it's all changed..”

The reality of all this is that marine habitat protections will be eroded, diminished, or lost altogether. Measures that have helped restore our North Sea cetacean populations from the adverse impacts of the 1970s when oil extraction and drilling rigs littered the ocean. The acoustic surveys that precede the drilling will significantly impact marine mammals that use echolocation, as well as disturbing migration patterns and routes, and causing hearing loss. Oil spill risks, microplastics, and toxic chemical release are all known and expected consequences of a re-boom in North Sea oil exploration and extraction. All will play a part in adversely impacting the lives of our North Sea cetaceans.

This part of the world is one that ORCA knows well, and so our voice will be heard as authoritative experts on what these adverse impacts will be. With our like-minded partners and allies, we’ll do everything we can to stop these regressive and harmful plans proceeding.