The World Heritage Centre, in close consultation and cooperation with the State Party, organised a consultant mission from 20 to 29 June to Mauritania to analyse the documents concerning the Environmental Impact Study on petroleum exploitation carried out by the Australian petroleum company Woodside, in the vicinity of Banc d’Arguin National Park. It should be noted that at the present time 60,000,000 tons of petrol are transported each year along the coast of Mauritania (400 tankers). Woodside's activities would add a further 28 tankers to this number. The legal context with regard to environmental matters, within which the proposed development of Woodside's activities is foreseen, is based upon Law N.2000/45 concerning legal environmental matters.
This law foresees that a Technical Committee for Environment and Development (TCED) carries out an evaluation of the environmental compatibility and approves or rejects the proposed project. However, as the decrees for the application of the Law 2000/45 have not yet been approved, this procedure has not been initiated. Furthermore, the risk of environmental damage due to industrial activity has been recognized by Law N.2000/24 with regard to the Banc d'Arguin National Park (BANP). In fact, Article 8 stipulates that all development projects or work likely to cause negative impacts on the ecosystem of the Park "[...] must undergo an impact evaluation providing all guarantees of objectivity [...]". Thus, during the workshop organized by Woodside at Nouakchott in June 2003, based on this law, the company was requested to provide an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
The project for the exploitation of the Chinguetti field, presented by the Woodside Company, foresees:
(a) the implementation of a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading System (FPSOS);
(b) the creation of 5 production wells and 4 gas reinjection wells;
(c) the installation of risers and flexible drainage pipes;
The installation of the Floating Production, Storage and Offloading System (FPSOS), permanently anchored to a tower, will comprise a big petrol tanker converted into a tanker hull with a capacity of 1.1 million barrels. Through a system of floating offloading pipes anchored at the rear, the oil produced will be transferred to tankers for transport to the final destination.
It is foreseen that the gas produced associated with the oil will be reinjected into an adequate underwater reservoir whereas the formation water associated with the oil production, will be rejected at sea at an estimated maximum volume of 75,000 barrels per day (data provided by Woodside). The greatest risk of accident to be considered in this type of activity is, without any doubt, that of an oil spill at sea. The Woodside Company is not, however, the only petroleum company operating in Mauritanian waters. In fact, two other companies are at present carrying out oil prospecting activities in areas even closer to the Banc d’Arguin National Park boundaries: DANA (independent British company) and the International Petroleum Grouping (IPG, an Anglo-Mauritanian company).
With regard to the environmental impact requirements that all petroleum companies operating in Mauritania must abide by, it should be recalled that:
(a) Woodside - according to information received, the company has drawn up the environment impact studies concerning the different exploitation phases carried out to date (seismic prospecting and well exploration).
(b) IPG - according to information obtained during the meeting on 27 June 2003 with the Director General of IPG, the company has already presented, during a public meeting, its environmental impact study regarding the drilling of short-term exploration wells. The environmental impact study was, at the same time, transmitted to the Ministry of Mines and Industry and a copy was provided to the BANP.
(c) DANA - apart from the proposal made to Woodside to drill the offshore "Thon" wells, it appears that the company, which is not represented in Nouakchott, has not respected the requirements foreseen by the law for environmental impact with regard to petroleum exploration activities carried out so far in 2000 and 2001
The World Heritage Centre has received the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) only from Woodside. This illustrates once again the urgent need to define and approve the decrees for application of the Law N.2000/45 so as to oblige the petroleum companies to submit the petroleum exploration activities foreseen to an environmental impact evaluation by the designated authority.
The BANP Administration should, on its part, encourage the identification and involvement of a recognized scientific structure which will coordinate the environmental monitoring programme executed each year by the Woodside Company and which will evaluate the results.
Finally, administrative action should be initiated to verify the possibility of modifying the sea routes followed by the oil tankers, or any other sea transportation of dangerous materials, in the event of an accident occurring in these maritime lanes which could have negative consequences on the Park. The procedure for the recognition of the Park area as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) foresees the preparation of a technical document to be submitted to the International Maritime Organization. The State Party has not yet signed the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution. The presentation of this documentation, which must necessarily be prepared in cooperation with the scientific staff of the Park Direction (who should provide the base document), could benefit from the availability of “Woodside” to provide the supporting material to the technical documentation. This cooperation could be part of the environmental compensation packet that the company must draw up with the Park administration.
A series of consultation meetings between the Centre, the BANP and Woodside were held during 2003-2004. The elaboration of a capacity-building strategy for national specialists should be studied during the Centre's reactive monitoring mission in June 2004, jointly with the World Bank mission.
Following the Committee's encouragement, the State Party has submitted a request for international assistance for the preparation of analysis documents and studies concerning petroleum prospecting.
With regard to the road construction between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou begun in 2003, the Centre has not received any information concerning the impact evaluation of this road on the Park, according to accepted international standards.