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World Heritage Convention

Decision 23 BUR IV.B.43
St. Kilda (United Kingdom)

The Bureau, at its twenty-second extraordinary session, was informed that the Centre had transmitted the report entitled «Threats to St. Kilda World Heritage Site from Proposed Oil Exploration and Production in the Atlantic Frontier», prepared by Greenpeace International, to IUCN for review. This report had raised serious concerns on potential impacts to this site, particularly in the event of a possible oil spill that may result from the use of the Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Facilities (FPSOs). There are important threats associated with pollution derived from by-products of oil exploration and drilling activities. IUCN had informed the Centre that the State Party is currently considering the establishment of a Special Area for Conservation of the seas of the St. Kilda Archipelago under the European Union’s Habitats and Species Directive. IUCN had welcomed this initiative and expressed the hope that it would lead to the eventual extension of the World Heritage site to include the seas of the St. Kilda Archipelago. The Observer of the United Kingdom had informed the Bureau that his Government was in the process of preparing a detailed response on the issues raised. Any licence would be subject to a thorough review, which is co-ordinated by Scottish Nature. The decision on the blocks offered for petroleum licensing was agreed with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee who co-ordinated their response with Scottish Nature. The Bureau invited the State Party to take all possible measures to protect St. Kilda from potential adverse impacts of oil exploration and production in the Atlantic Frontier and to consult with all interested parties before proceeding with such activities. The Bureau welcomed the State Party’s initiative to consider extending the boundaries of the site to include the seas of the St. Kilda Archipelago.

The Bureau noted that the Scottish Office, Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department, had informed the Centre of the responses of the authorities with regard to threats arising from the proposed oil exploration and production at the Atlantic Frontier. This information has been transmitted to IUCN for review. The authorities indicated that they are satisfied with the implementation of various oil and gas round licensing procedures and that the risks to St. Kilda are minimal. They are firmly of the opinion that there is no case for inclusion of St. Kilda in the List of World Heritage in Danger.

IUCN informed the Bureau that it had received new information since the conclusion of the last session of the Committee, which suggested that threats to this site have become greater. This information suggested that more than 150 blocks have now been licensed for oil development, including one located 120 km from St. Kilda. Seismic testing continues to be carried out over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of the Atlantic Frontier, with allegedly inadequate consideration of either the importance of the area for whales and dolphins or the effects of acoustic disturbance on these species. The Atlantic Frontier is the most important place in the UK, and possibly in Europe, for large whales and dolphins and the threat of negative impacts of seismic testing on cetaceans is becoming stronger. IUCN noted that the UK marine environment has experienced some of the worst oil pollution incidents in the world in recent years. New oil developments in the Atlantic Frontier increase the pollution potential. A significant increase in shuttle tanker traffic is expected as the new oil fields develop. Should a spill occur, it is by no means certain that the capacity exists within the region to deal adequately with contingency actions. The potential for increased oil pollution presents serious threats to the bird and marine life around St. Kilda and throughout the Atlantic Frontier. IUCN noted conflicting information, and the need for clarity and suggested a round table meeting with a delay in granting any licenses until the round table meeting.

The Observer of the United Kingdom informed the Bureau that his Government’s response was provided to the Centre by 12 April 1999 and has reached IUCN. His Government refutes any suggestions that threats to St. Kilda have become greater since the last Committee meeting. He emphasised that no additional sites had been licenced for oil exploration. Licences cover 80 blocks (not 150), and the nearest block to St. Kilda is 70 km away, the furthest 350 km. In offering blocks for petroleum licensing, the Government took full account of the views of the Joint Natural Conservation Committee (JNCC). His Government would take full account of environmental, safety and legislative requirements before allowing any development. Much of the information relates to potential threats from possible developments, which are a very long way from the World Heritage site. His Government would be happy to set up round table discussions among the interested parties.

In view of the need to clarify and consolidate information on the offshore oil issues in relation to this site, the Bureau suggested that the State Party, in co-operation with the Centre and IUCN, initiate a round table process involving all interested parties.  Following this meeting, a state of conservation report should be prepared and provided to the extraordinary session of the Bureau in November 1999.

Decision Code
23 BUR IV.B.43
Properties 1
State of conservation reports
1999 St Kilda
Context of Decision