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Shell relinquishes exploration rights to create massive west coast marine protected area

September 13th 2018

The Canadian affiliate of one of the world’s largest oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell, is releasing 50,000 square kilometres of offshore exploration permits off the coast of British Columbia and promoting conservation.

Shell Canada president Michael Crothers made the announcement in Vancouver on Thursday alongside Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who said the area would become part of the new Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area.

Crothers said that there are “definitely hydrocarbon systems there,” but that Shell has “no plans to [drill] off the coast of B.C.”

The area stretches over 700 kilometres from the south west coast of Vancouver Island towards the northeastern tip of Haida Gwaii — an area 1.5 times the size of Vancouver Island.

A map detailing the area (in red) that Shell Canada is releasing for conservation purposes. The total area equals 50,000 square kilometres, which represents an area 1.5 times the size of Vancouver Island. Image courtesy of Shell

“Shell has had a long history of voluntary conservation in Canada, and this is the logical next step,” Crothers said.

“Rather than continue to hold these lands, we plan to formally release them, and work with the government of Canada, with the province, with Indigenous peoples, and environmental groups, to see how we can be a catalyst of additional conservation all along the west coast.”

Crothers added that they don’t intend to request any financial compensation, and that “any compensation we would receive we would redirect back to this framework working with First Nations communities and the government.”

Although unexpected, this isn’t the first time Shell Canada has released drilling rights for conservation purposes. In 2016, Shell relinquished a large swath of drilling rights in the Canadian Arctic, off the coast of Baffin Island, equivalent to an area larger than Banff National Park.

Marine Protected Area

The new Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area encompasses 11,546 square kilometres. It is the first marine protected area established under the Canada Wildlife Act, and is the largest of Canada’s National Wildlife Areas.

“We have made a commitment to meeting Canada’s target of protecting 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020,” Wilkinson stated.

Wilkinson said that the new Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area brings Canada up to 7.8 per cent protection, and that before the Liberal government was elected in 2015, that number was around one per cent.

The Scott Islands, located off the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, are home to the largest and most diverse seabird colonies in B.C, sustaining nearly 40 per cent of all of the province’s sea birds, while also acting as a pit stop for nearly 10 million migratory birds.

Along with birds, the Scott Islands are home to a wide variety of marine mammals and fish, including many species at risk such as the southern resident killer whales.

The southern resident killer whales, whose population has dwindled to just 75 individuals, is a major focus of conservation efforts and Wilkinson said the government is prepared to restrict salmon fishing (the main food source of these whales) in order to protect them.

“We’ve identified a couple of new areas of critical habitat just a week ago where there will be a process we’ll be gong through to identify if additional restrictions on fishing will happen,” Wilkinson stated.

The Government of Canada will provide $3.2 million in funding for the management of this National Wildlife Area through Canada’s Natural Legacy, which is a commitment that by 2020, at least “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.”

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