Conservation and offshore hydrocarbon exploitation

All around the world there are marine areas important for biodiversity that are experiencing exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas resources. Such operations are expanding to previously inaccessible deep waters and other frontier regions. Conservation challenges arising from offshore hydrocarbon development are wide-ranging. These challenges include threats to ecosystems and marine species from oil spills, negative impacts on native biodiversity from invasive species colonizing drilling infrastructure, and increased political conflicts that can delay conservation actions.

In light of these threats, conservationists need to urgently consider some possible opportunities for conservation that could be leveraged from these mining operations. Options include the use of facilities and infrastructure of the deep and ultra-deep hydrocarbon industry for deep-sea conservation research and monitoring and establishing new conservation research, practice, and monitoring funds and environmental offsetting schemes.

The conservation community, including conservation scientists, should become more involved in the earliest planning and exploration phases and remain involved throughout the operations so as to influence decision making and promote continuous monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems. A prompt response by conservation professionals to offshore oil and gas developments can mitigate impacts of future decisions and actions of the industry and governments. New environmental decision support tools can be used to explicitly incorporate the impacts of hydrocarbon operations on biodiversity into marine spatial and conservation plans and thus allow for optimum trade-offs among multiple objectives, costs, and risks.


Kark S, E Brokovich, T Mazor & N Levin. (2015), Emerging conservation challenges and prospects in an era of offshore hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation. Conservation Biology doi: 10.1111/cobi.12562.

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