The Cambo oil field project could jeopardise hundreds of species including protected deep sea sponges and “contribute to the climate crisis”, environmental groups have warned.
Environmentalists said pipelines to export the oil from the Cambo field would cut through approximately 22 miles of the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt, a UK Marine Protected Area.
It is home to rare deep-sea sponges, known as “cheese-bottoms” by fishermen, and ocean quahogs, a type of clam that can live for hundreds of years, making it one of the oldest living creatures on earth.
A review from the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (Elaw) warns that the Cambo project “could jeopardise hundreds of species over several decades, as well as livelihoods”.
As COP26 UN climate change talks take place in Glasgow, environmental groups are calling on the UK Government to say no to Siccar Point Energy’s Cambo proposal, in which Shell has a stake.
Tessa Khan, director of Uplift said: “These critical climate talks have two goals: enormous global cuts to carbon emissions and the protection and restoration of the natural world.
“And yet, just a couple of hundred miles north of Glasgow, COP26’s hosts are considering doing the complete opposite.
“This new oil field will contribute to the climate crisis while potentially damaging a sensitive underwater world. Everyone loses except the oil companies.
“The UK Government must protect its seas, lead the world beyond oil and gas and say no to Cambo.”
Sixteen marine protection and climate groups, including Greenpeace UK, WWF UK, the Marine Conservation Society and Friends of the Earth Scotland, have written to the UK Government’s offshore oil and gas environmental regulator, Opred, asking it to include marine impacts when assessing the Cambo drilling application.
They raised concerns about the likely impacts the pipelines would have on the seabed, on hundreds of marine species and on the local fishing industry, and underline the devastation that an oil spill in the area would cause.
Calum Duncan, of the Marine Conservation Society, said: “The UK Government presents itself as a global leader on climate change and ocean protection, committing to protect a third of the ocean by 2030. It now needs to act on these promises and protect this precious sponge belt from Shell.
“The sponge beds and associated species are incredibly sensitive deep-sea habitats. Construction, movement and potential leaking from this pipeline could have devastating consequences for deep-sea sponge and protected features already under pressure from damaging activities such as deep-sea trawling.
“Against the twin climate and biodiversity crises, Boris Johnson must heed the message from scientists when they say there can be no new oil and gas developments, like Cambo, if we want a liveable climate, and the Scottish Government must ensure the adequate protection of this vulnerable sponge belt from all impacts.”
Siccar Point Energy have said the Cambo field could deliver up to 170 million barrels of oil during its 25-year operational life.
Environmental groups said this would generate emissions equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 18 coal-fired power stations.
A UK Government spokesman said: “The Cambo oil field was originally licensed in 2001. Development proposals for oil fields under existing licences are a matter for the regulators: the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) and the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning; following their standard regulatory processes.
“As part of regulatory process, Opred complete an environmental impact assessment and a public consultation on any proposal, including ensuring the impact on the marine environment is taken into account.”
A spokesman for Siccar Point Energy said: “We are committed to producing oil and gas responsibly to provide a homegrown energy supply during the transition and have been subject to all the regulatory processes, checks and balances expected of any offshore energy development.”
He added: “The export pipeline from Cambo is for gas. All our environmental work is underpinned by extensive special scientific analysis and research, predominantly using external specialists.”
He said discussions were held with the regulator and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) when compiling the environmental statement and the analysis of seabed habitats was completed in line with JNCC’s current methodology.
A Scottish Government spokesman said Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK Government to use its power to urgently re-assess all approved oil licences where drilling has not yet commenced against our climate commitments.
He added: “There are duties on all public authorities to ensure that there is no significant risk to achieving Marine Protected Area conservation objectives from their decisions to consent activities. In the case of oil and gas development that is the responsibility of the UK Government through the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment & Decommissioning.”
Shell declined to comment.