In February 2012, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN were informed of the granting by the State Party of a prospection permit for liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons adjacent to the property. Following a letter from the World Heritage Centre regarding this issue, the State Party provided the World Heritage Centre with an information note on 30 March 2012 concerning the potential impact of a project for the prospection of liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. It recalled the background and objectives of the mining exploration license, the environmental, heritage and energy challenges, and described the regulations and specific characteristics of the research.
a) Request for the extension of an exclusive license for liquid or gaseous hydrocarbon research
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the request of the Melrose Mediterranean Limited and Noble Energie France SAS companiesfor the renewal of a prospection license for liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons off the coast of the Bouches-du-Rhone and the Var. This exclusiveresearch license called “Rhone-Maritime” was granted by a decree dated 29 October 2002, then extended in 2006 until 19 November 2010.
This third and final request for renewal concerns a sector of 9375 km2 located approximately 102 nautical miles from the western boundary of the property and close to numerous protected areas, including the property. The State Party indicates that it is envisaged to carry out three-dimensional seismic research to confirm the data acquired during the previous 2D campaign undertaken in the winter of 2010/2011. In the event of satisfactory results, it is expected that this stage of prospection would be extended to exploratory drilling in the second half of 2013.
The State Party indicates that the Melrose Mediterranean Limited and Noble Energie France SAS companies hope to demonstrate the existence of exploitable biogenic reserves. However, during a drilling operation there was no element confirming the presence of liquid hydrocarbons. It further informed that the request by these companies concerns the extension of a mining research license and not an authorization for exploratory drilling work. It notes that any project for offshore exploratory work is submitted for decision to the local authorities (Prefect) and consultations are instigated, based on a file containing detailed information concerning the envisaged operations and including an environmental impact study.
The World Heritage Centre also received a copy of a resolution of the Scientific Council for the Scandola Reserve expressing its most serious concerns regarding this prospection project and stating its opposition to all exploratory drilling or eventual exploitation due to the risk of potential oil spills.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the western Mediterranean is a zone of high seismic activity, and that in 2005 two seismic epicentres were located within the perimeter of the “Rhone Maritime” license. It should also be noted that the risk of a rupture of a wellhead can occur at any stage of drilling. They emphasize the unmanageable consequences of an accident or a hydrocarbon leak in a closed sea such as the Mediterranean, due to the violence and irregularity of dominating winds and the strong marine currents in this zone. Studies on ocean currents have demonstrated that in the event if hydrocarbon leaks, on the seabed or on the surface, there is a very high probability that the Corsican coasts, where the property is located, would be affected within a few days.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that the property is inscribed for aesthetic and biodiversity criteria. An accident in the boundaries of the prospection zone could have negative impacts on the principal components of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Considering the acute sensitivity of the coastal biodiversity, the hydrocarbons would directly affect the intertidal formations, notably species of algae and molluscs. Coral species, fish, birds and marine mammals frequenting the area would most likely be immediately and seriously affected. It should also be noted that the rocky coastline would greatly hamper any cleaning-up operations by land or sea.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are aware through the media of the declaration made by the outgoing President of the French Republic, on 6 April 2012, expressing his opposition to all exploratory drilling projects in the Mediterranean, but note that they have not been informed by the State Party of the official decision concerning the non-renewal of this prospection license.
b) Management and draft extension of the property
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the important increase in tourism pressure on the property since its inscription. They were only informed in September 2010 that the Committee of Ministers of the European Council had renewed the European Diploma for Protected Areas granted to the Scandola Reserve, but that this decision was accompanied by two conditions and seven recommendations. They consider that some of these conditions are also important for the conservation of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, in particular the need to limit the impact of anchorage at Posidonie, and limit tourist activities, especially nautical activities that, according to the Resolution, are a cause of major disruption for key species. The World Heritage Centre sent a letter in October 2011 to the State Party in this respect, requesting additional information concerning the increase in tourism activities since inscription of the property, their impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and the measures taken to minimize these impacts. To date no response has been received. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the means allocated to the property to cope with this pressure are very limited and only concern the Scandola Reserve. They recall also the need to define and implement a management plan for the entire property.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also note the proposed offshore extension for the Scandola Reserve covering a total area of 4000 hectares, and that the area would be inscribed as a Natura 2000 site and the definition of a document of objectives would be undertaken.