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Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve

Russian Federation
Factors affecting the property in 2015*
  • Marine transport infrastructure
  • Oil and gas
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
  • Lack of Management Plan (issue resolved)
International Assistance: requests for the property until 2015
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved : 0 USD
Missions to the property until 2015**
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2015

On 21 October 2014, the World Heritage Centre requested the State Party to provide information on the geophysical prospecting in the marine area surrounding the property conducted by the oil and gas company Rosneft and on the planned construction of a naval base for the Russian Pacific Fleet within the property. 

On 10 March 2015, the World Heritage Centre sent a second letter to the State Party seeking further information on these two issues, specifically regarding the presence of vessels within the waters of the Wrangel Island Strict Nature Reserve, ongoing construction of a military base, military training that took place within the property in September 2014 and oil exploration activities. 

On 14 April 2015, the World Heritage Centre also sent a letter to the State Party of the United States of America regarding additional third party information received with regard to oil exploration planned by the Shell Oil company in the Chukchi Sea.

In its Decision 36 COM 7B.20, the Committee had requested the State Party to develop and submit to the World Heritage Centre an effective Tourism Management Plan and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the planned upgrading of tourism facilities. On 3 June 2014, the World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the State Party of the Russian Federation reminding it of the Committee Decision and requesting it to provide the documents. None of these documents have been provided to the World Heritage Centre to this date.

Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2015

Information regarding the construction of a military base within the property and the fact that some construction works have already been carried out raise concerns. In addition the potentially significant impacts from construction works on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), permanent presence of military personnel on the island and increased marine and air traffic could have significant negative impacts on the highly sensitive tundra ecosystem of the property and on the populations of key species, including polar bears and walruses. 

Oil exploration activities in the vicinity of the property undertaken by Rosneft have the potential for significant impacts on the OUV and integrity of the property, including its unique arctic wildlife, and are of serious concern. According to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project, which is available online in Russian, the three zones where seismic surveys and other prospecting activities are planned, border the buffer zone of the site. Third party information, which has been shared with the State Party, indicates that one of the ships had entered the marine area of the property several times. No information has been received from the State Party regarding whether potential impacts of such activities on the property’s OUV and integrity have been assessed. It is recommended that the Committee reiterate its position that oil and gas exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status, and that it urge the State Party to prepare an EIA for all oil exploration activities in the vicinity of the property, including a specific assessment of potential impacts of such activities on the OUV of the property, in conformity with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment and taking into account the high sensitivity of arctic areas. It is further recommended that the Committee request the State Party to provide a copy of the EIA to the World Heritage Centre in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, for review by IUCN, and to ensure that no activities associated with oil and gas exploration occur within the property and its vicinity if they are likely to negatively impact the OUV of the property.

Information provided by the third party on the oil exploration planned by Shell Oil, which was sent for clarification to the State Party of the United States of America, raises concerns on the potential impacts in case of a very large oil spill during exploration or production at the sites for which Shell Oil purchased leases (Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska). One of the publicly available oil spill models prepared by Shell visualizes a worst-case scenario in which oil plumes would enter the buffer zone of the property within 30 days following the spill. A detailed EIA for this lease sale has been prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management which confirms potential impacts on Wrangel Island in case of an oil spill. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party of the United States of America to ensure that no development proceeds before the potential impacts of the oil exploration planned by Shell Oil on the OUV of the property have been fully assessed, in conformity with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment. As mentioned above, it is further recommended that a copy of the EIA of the project is provided to the World Heritage Centre, in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, for review by IUCN. The EIA should be provided prior to processing approval permits for exploration activities in view of ensuring that any oil exploration or exploitation in the Chukchi Sea will not have negative impacts on the OUV of the property.   

It is noted that the request of the Committee in its Decision 36 COM 7B.20 to develop and implement a tourism management plan for the property and EIAs for any planned tourism infrastructure developments, taking into account the high sensitivity of the tundra ecosystem, and to submit these documents to the World Heritage Centre, has not been implemented by the State Party. It is recommended that the Committee reiterate this request.

Considering the significance of potential impacts on the property and the lack of information from the State Party, it is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to halt any construction works within the property and exploration activities within the marine areas surrounding the property until the impacts on the property’s OUV are fully assessed. It is further recommended that the State Party invites a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to the property to evaluate the state of conservation and assist the State Party with suitable solutions to ensure that all planned activities within the property and its surrounding marine areas do not negatively impact the OUV of the property.

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2015
39 COM 7B.25
Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve (Russian Federation) (N 1023rev)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC-15/39.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.20, adopted at its 36th session (Saint-Petersburg, 2012),
  3. Expresses its concern that the construction of a military base appears to have started within the property, with potential to impact significantly on its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), regrets that the State Party did not provide any information on this matter, as required by Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, nor a response to requests from the World Heritage Centre, and urges the State Party to immediately halt any construction works within the property until the potential impacts are fully assessed and suitable measures to avoid deterioration of the OUV of the property are in place;
  4. Notes with serious concern the reported oil exploration activities undertaken by Rosneft in the vicinity of the property, and that one of the exploration ships is reported to have repeatedly entered the property, reiterates its position that oil exploration or exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status, which is supported by the commitments made by industry leaders not to undertake such activities within World Heritage properties and requests the State Party to urgently ensure that no oil exploration or exploitation activities occur within the property, nor are permitted in its vicinity if they could have negative impacts on the property, taking into account the high sensitivity of the property’s Arctic ecosystem;
  5. Also requests the State Party to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of the abovementioned activities, including an assessment of potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on the OUV of the property, in line with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, and to submit these EIAs to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN;
  6. Further requests the State Party of the United States of America to ensure that no development proceeds before the potential impacts of the oil exploration planned by Shell Oil on the OUV of the property have been fully assessed and to submit these EIAs to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, prior to any approval of permits for exploration activities, in order to ensure that any oil exploration or exploitation in the Chukchi Sea will not have negative impacts on the property;
  7. Requests furthermore the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to assess the state of conservation of the property and evaluate current and potential impacts from the construction of the military base within the property and from the oil exploration activities undertaken by Rosneft and/or others, as well as other planned activities in the area and their cumulative impacts;
  8. Reiterates its request to the State Party to develop and implement an effective plan for tourism use within the property, taking into account the particular sensitivity of the tundra ecosystem, conduct an EIA for the planned tourism infrastructure development, in line with IUCN World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, and submit these documents to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN;
  9. Requests moreover the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2016, an updated report, including a 1-page executive summary, on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 40th session in 2016.
Draft Decision: 39 COM 7B.25

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC-15/39.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.20, adopted at its 36th session (Saint-Petersburg, 2012),
  3. Expresses its concern that the construction of a military base appears to have started within the property, with potential to impact significantly on its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), regrets that the State Party did not provide any information on this matter, as required by Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, nor a response to requests from the World Heritage Centre, and urges the State Party to immediately halt any construction works within the property until the potential impacts are fully assessed and suitable measures to avoid deterioration of the OUV of the property are in place;
  4. Notes with serious concern the reported oil exploration activities undertaken by Rosneft in the vicinity of the property, and that one of the exploration ships is reported to have repeatedly entered the property, reiterates its position that oil exploration or exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status, which is supported by the commitments made by industry leaders not to undertake such activities within World Heritage properties and requests the State Party to urgently ensure that no oil exploration or exploitation activities occur within the property, nor are permitted in its vicinity if they could have negative impacts on the property, taking into account the high sensitivity of the property’s Arctic ecosystem;
  5. Also requests the State Party to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of the abovementioned activities, including an assessment of potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on the OUV of the property, in line with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, and to submit these EIAs to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN;
  6. Further requests the State Party of the United States of America to ensure that no development proceeds before the potential impacts of the oil exploration planned by Shell Oil on the OUV of the property have been fully assessed and to submit these EIAs to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, prior to any approval of permits for exploration activities, in order to ensure that any oil exploration or exploitation in the Chukchi Sea will not have negative impacts on the property;
  7. Requests furthermore the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to assess the state of conservation of the property and evaluate current and potential impacts from the construction of the military base within the property and from the oil exploration activities undertaken by Rosneft and/or others, as well as other planned activities in the area and their cumulative impacts;
  8. Reiterates its request to the State Party to develop and implement an effective plan for tourism use within the property, taking into account the particular sensitivity of the tundra ecosystem, conduct an EIA for the planned tourism infrastructure development, in line with IUCN World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, and submit these documents to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN;
  9. Requests moreover the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2016, an updated report, including a 1-page executive summary, on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 40th session in 2016.
Report year: 2015
Russian Federation
Date of Inscription: 2004
Category: Natural
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Documents examined by the Committee
SOC Report by the State Party
Report (2015) .pdf
arrow_circle_right 39COM (2015)
Exports

* : The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).

** : All mission reports are not always available electronically.


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