Comment: The possible impacts of Shell oil exploration in block 4 and around the Vjosa river – Exit
News that Shell is exploring areas around the Vjosa River in Block 4 in southern Albania has sparked controversy, protests and extensive media coverage.
Shell claims to have engaged with residents, but did not say what the results of that engagement were. Residents say they have always been against the project and have even taken to the streets to make it clear that Shell and its oil exploration activities are not welcome in their communities.
Oil drilling involves a number of risks for the surrounding ecosystem. It disturbs the land and therefore the flora and fauna that surround it. Usually, when drilling, large strips of vegetation are cleared, displacing all the creatures that live there and removing trees and plants. There is also a risk of contamination of the land and nearby waterways. Chemicals, sewage and petroleum can be devastating if they come into contact with the surrounding environment.
While oil companies say they are doing everything possible to reduce the risk of oil spills or other forms of contamination, the risk remains and accidents can and do happen.
So what are the main arguments against Shell exploration or drilling for oil in Block 4, or any other area surrounding the Vjosa River?
The impact on tourism
Tourism is a key part of the Albanian economy. 2020 has been a difficult year for the country and there is high hope that 2021 and 2022 will bring much needed visitors to the country. Much of Albania’s tourist attraction lies in its exceptionally beautiful nature. Wild rivers such as the Vjosa and Valbona, canyons and gorges, mountain ranges, castles, history and a beautiful coastline attract over 2 million visitors each year – a number that is set to increase.
Many people living in rural or semi-rural areas have put their hopes in the development of tourism services such as guesthouses, tour operators, authentic experiences in villages / camping etc. and even active holidays. like hiking, horse trekking, cycling, rock climbing and rafting. Agritourism is also a promising sector with many of their homes in authentic retreats serving locally grown and produced dishes.
In an area of outstanding natural beauty, with low employment rates, the vast majority of the local population see their future in tourism. They also firmly believe that this opportunity will be destroyed if Shell does any oil drilling in or around the area.
The impact on the environment
Block 4 consists of a wide variety of different environments. These include stunning mountain ranges with canyons and gorges, the Vjose River and a number of small streams and rivers that feed into it, lush forest, bush, hills, and quaint villages full of fascinating culture, tradition and beauty. Much of this part of the country is still untouched by development and it retains a truly unique and unspoiled quality that is becoming increasingly rare in other parts of the country.
Shell has said it will not drill into the Vjosa River, but drilling around it or near the rivers and streams that feed into it is just as perilous.
The exploration process involves the use of chemicals that eventually find their way to the surface, along with oil. These products must either be properly disposed of or reinjected into the soil so as not to have an impact on what is on the surface. It also carries a risk of contamination of groundwater resources. This is not to mention oil spills and contamination of surface water such as rivers, streams and lakes.
In turkey, Shell has injected oil production water into an underground water reservoir for more than 25 years. The effects of this activity were studied and it was found that despite being injected in one place, the chemicals and oil had moved almost 20 km to a town where the aquifer is used as the main source of water. ‘potable water. They predicted that within 40 years, the contaminant would pollute the drinking water of thousands of people, rendering it unusable.
But exploration and drilling can also have an impact on soil and air. Results of a survey that analyzed the results of 2326 various studies of communities living near oil exploration and drilling studies provided regarding the results. He found evidence of negative impacts on people living near upstream oil extraction activities. This included the effects of exposure to petroleum-related chemicals both in the air and through the soil.
With regard to fauna, drilling causes significant disturbances. Not only are large amounts of habitat destroyed, but noise from boreholes, vehicles and other machinery disrupts the reproduction, communication and nesting of native species.
The damage caused by these activities is so severe that a lawsuit is currently underway against Shell for work carried out in Nigeria. Some 40,000 people spoke out that decades of pollution from Shell’s operations have severely affected their livelihoods, health and local environment.
People reported that they could no longer fish and take care of the land, people were dying, there was a higher rate of miscarriages and a prevalence of strange and rare diseases.
The Bille community and the Ogale people of Ogoniland have brought a case against Shell in the English courts. Shell tried to prevent the action from being filed there, but lost the case earlier this year. Without denying the pollution caused, they tried to argue that they could not be held legally responsible for their Nigerian subsidiary, but the court rejected it.
The UN said the pollution would take up to 30 years to clear and much of the area is now toxic wasteland.
This is of great concern, especially combined with Shell’s attempt to exonerate liability by trying to say that they are not responsible for a subsidiary activity. It should be noted that this is also a subsidiary operating in Albania, Shell Upstream Albania.
The impact on the Vjosa river
The Vjosa River is the last wild river in Europe and has been the subject of an international campaign to protect it for several years. Continuing calls have been made to Prime Minister Edi Rama to designate the entire area as a national park, thus protecting it from the threat of oil companies and the construction of hydroelectric power stations. So far he has refused, possibly due to the important contract signed with Shell in 2018 worth tens of millions and lasting 25 years.
Riverwatch, Euronatur, Patagonia, Leonardo di Caprio, EcoAlbania and even WeTransfer have expressed their support for the protection of the Vjosa. While some of its tributaries are threatened by HPP, the main river is so far in a pristine state.
270 km long, it stretches from Vouvoussa in Greece, crosses Albania and has created vast wetlands which are home to breeding fish, local and migratory birds and a precious wealth of flora and fauna. It is home to a wide range of different ecosystems and much remains unexplored, which means that we do not yet realize the full extent of the value of this river.
We know it is home to many native, endangered and protected species of birds, fish and mammals, and there may be many more that we have yet to discover.
Unfortunately, the river is threatened by Shell in Block 4, Vlora Airport and tourist development where it meets Narta Lagoon and HPP for most of its length.
As far as Shell is concerned, the idea that any form of oil exploration or drilling takes place anywhere near the river is abominable to environmental experts. The risk of contamination, spills and devastation that this would cause to surrounding land and wildlife is just too risky.
The impact on the environment in general
But oil exploration also has much broader implications. First, oil exploration at new sites is incompatible with the Paris Agreement to which Albania is a party. Scientists have already shown that the exploitation of existing reserves of fossil fuels is incompatible with the global warming limit of 2C. This means that there is no need to explore and drill new sites as this would also not contribute to the 2C limit that Albania has committed to.
Otherwise, other studies have shown that a third of the world’s oil reserves are expected to remain idle by 2050 to meet Target 2C. Again, this means that oil exploration in Albania is at odds with the agreement to which the country is a party.
The UN has also made it clear that oil production must be reduced. of 4% each year from 2020. They said restricting the exploration, extraction or export of new fossil fuels can avoid blocking fossil fuel production levels higher than those consistent with climate goals.
With regard to Shell’s global activities, the NGO Carbon Tracker Initiative demonstrated that up to 70% of Shell’s investments in new business and exploration go beyond what is necessary if the world is serious about limiting global warming.
On May 18, Shell shareholders will meet at the Annual General Meeting to vote on the Energy transition strategy. This plan is designed to give the impression that Shell takes environmental issues seriously, but there are various issues with the climate targets, plan and numbers.
The document says Shell does not plan any further exploration of the border after 2025, but since the Albania contract was signed in 2018, that does little to protect the Vjosa and the Albanians. It also contains a series of assumptions, vague plans and targets that are still not aligned with what would be needed to bring them into line in any way with the Paris Agreement.
They say they will pledge to reduce oil production from 1 to 2%, to 55% of hydrocarbon sales by 2030 and to increase the sale of biofuels by 8 times. Essentially, they will “freeze” oil activity, rather than reducing it or gradually reducing it.
This lead to greenwashing accusations, especially given their inability to meet their own goal of investing $ 6 billion in renewable energy by 2020.
Simply put, Shell doesn’t care about the environment, climate change or the dangers of fossil fuels, and Albania is potentially in breach of its Paris Agreement obligations, which I will add are legally binding.