A global biodiversity assessment report issued by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in 2019 cautioned that existing biodiversity conservation goals, including United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) regarding Life below Water and Life on Land, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi targets cannot be achieved. In the report, IPBES projected that one in four species is at risk of extinction, predicted further acceleration of the global extinction rate, and suggested that global biodiversity loss also undermines other goals, such as the Paris Climate Change Agreement. IPBES concluded that transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors are required in support of global biodiversity conservation.
The CBD’s post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework seeks to stop further biodiversity loss by 2030 and to reverse population declines by 2050. The framework provides guidance for goals to reduce threats to biodiversity including smart targets for protection, sustainable use and control of invasive species. Through IPIECA, we have provided feedback on the draft framework as the private sector continues to play an important role in its implementation.
Biodiversity loss is a global challenge that requires local mitigation solutions, as every basin or marine area has a unique combination of habitats, plant and animal species. Without mitigation, exploration and production activities can disturb or alter habitats, reduce habitat intactness and impact species distribution and abundance through the construction of roads, well pads, compressor stations and storage facilities. We manage risks and mitigate impacts to areas with biological or cultural significance through the use of the Mitigation Hierarchy. The hierarchy includes four prioritized steps to mitigate adverse biodiversity impacts: Avoid, Minimize, Rehabilitate and Restore, and Offsets.
Some biodiversity impacts can be avoided through careful spatial or temporal placement of infrastructure or scheduling field activities outside peak migration or breeding seasons.
We conduct aerial infrared surveys where winter activities are planned on the North Slope of Alaska to look for heat signatures indicative of polar bears in dens. For over 15 years we have also funded grizzly bear research to help improve our activities and avoid human influence on bears. Read more on how we work to avoid human-bear interactions.
Ice roads and ice pads are constructed every winter when seasonal access is sufficient, avoiding permanent infrastructure on the tundra. Ice road routes are carefully mapped out, avoiding rough terrain, cultural sites and other potentially sensitive areas. In 2019, we built the equivalent of 148 miles of winter ice roads and 225 acres of ice pads which melted away in the summer. Ground disturbing activity on the tundra, such as gravel placement and other construction, occurs in the winter, outside of the migratory bird breeding season.
Norwegian North Sea
In Norway, we continue to study the timing of cod spawning in the North Sea to mitigate impact from seismic surveys on the cod population.
U.S. Lower 48
In the Bakken area of North Dakota, we separately analyze each new well pad to design our footprint based on the species, current land uses and ecosystem near our operations. Early in the planning process, we do a thorough review of the species, ecosystem and cultural components of the area as we consider the location of our wells and facilities. This enables us to design our operations with landscape best use in mind and to avoid impacts to biodiversity and habitats. See more about our project-specific approach to avoidance planning in North Dakota.
Strategic initiatives like conservation agreements also help avoid biodiversity impacts and protect sensitive habitats near our operations. We have enrolled over 280,000 acres in voluntary conservation agreements that protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas and the Dune Sagebrush Lizard in New Mexico. These formal agreements with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and/or other federal or state agencies typically require that new well locations and surface infrastructure avoid species habitats or sensitive areas within habitats.
We minimize biodiversity impacts through measures taken to reduce the duration, intensity and/or extent of the footprint of our operations. New drilling technology, data analytics techniques and integrated planning have helped reduce our infrastructure footprint and improve reservoir development efficiency through multi-well pads, longer lateral wells, multi-lateral wells, tankless pads and central facilities.
Through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), our oil sands operations led the development of a footprint intensity reduction goal to reduce the footprint intensity of in-situ operations by 10% by 2022. This land performance goal applies to the in-situ projects of COSIA members collectively and is achieved primarily through surface infrastructure footprint optimization, improved drilling technology and accelerated interim reclamation. By 2019, COSIA in-situ companies collectively reduced their footprint intensity by over 10%, achieving the performance goal early.
The size of well pads has been reduced from 65 acres in 1970 to about 12 acres. At the same time, the drilling radius has increased from 5,000 feet to about 22,000 feet. Our extended-reach drill (ERD) rig will have an even greater radius of around 37,000 feet. This allows us to locate surface infrastructure at a safe distance from local communities and sensitive environments, minimizing our impact. Our engineers are also integrating biodiversity preservation measures into the design and siting of infrastructure. New pipelines are elevated seven or more feet above the tundra to allow caribou to cross underneath. New roads and pipelines are also typically constructed 500 feet apart to further facilitate unimpeded caribou movement. For new projects, we place power cables on the pipeline racks to eliminate the need to build overhead powerlines and reduce bird collision hazards.
U.S. Lower 48
Shrinking pad size and increased drilling radius have also helped minimize the infrastructure footprint for our unconventional operations in the Lower 48. Over the last few years, the typical length of horizontal wells increased from around 5,000 feet to 8,000-10,000 feet. We have achieved a significant reduction of well pad size by routinely placing four to six wells, and sometimes as many as eight to 12 wells, on multi-well pads, and through utilizing central facilities and tankless pads. For our China Draw and Zia Hills assets in the Delaware Basin, our development strategy leverages a centralized facility concept, which reduces infrastructure footprint, land disturbance, impacts on wildlife, emissions and truck traffic. This concept is also being applied in our Bakken assets in North Dakota. We estimate that this strategy will lead to an overall pad footprint reduction of at least 50%.
Through collaboration with strategic partners in joint ventures we work to minimize biodiversity impacts in areas near our operations. We are contributing to the conservation of 5.6 million acres of sage grouse habitat on almost 1,500 participating ranches in 11 western states by providing $1 million to the Intermountain West Joint Venture over a five-year period. The funds will support the implementation of the Sage Grouse Initiative, an effort by regulators, nongovernmental organizations, universities and industry to restore and conserve intact native rangelands for the species. We are also co-funding a three-year, landscape-scale assessment project to develop a grassland birds conservation plan. Modeled after the successful Sage Grouse Initiative, the goal of the project administered by the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture is to develop a set of recommendations for a grasslands conservation framework to stabilize grassland bird populations and minimize impacts across the Great Plains.
Across North America
Through our Biodiversity Stewardship program, we help advance conservation and minimize the impact on migratory birds through work with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center. As part of the Migratory Connectivity Project, 668 birds of 20 different species have been fitted with geolocators, and over 10,000 birds have been banded to date. By tracking bird movement, we gain a better understanding of habitats throughout their migration cycle, and how we can take a coordinated approach for more effective conservation.
When impacts and disturbance cannot be completely avoided or minimized, we employ measures to restore the area to a stable, productive and self-sustaining ecosystem, taking into account beneficial uses of the impacted and surrounding areas.
As part of our offshore decommissioning activities in Norway, we are removing and recycling offshore platforms to reduce our footprint and restore marine habitat. Several first-generation Ekofisk platforms installed in the 1970s in Norway have been removed and more than 97% (excluding hazardous waste) has been reused or recycled so far. Safety zones around removed platforms have been mapped and debris identified and removed, restoring approximately 1,400 acres of seabed.
To accelerate reclamation and restore disturbances in the Canadian boreal forest, we have led an industry collaboration through COSIA to develop, share and implement best practices for reclaiming exploration well sites. The Faster Forests program started in 2009 and has resulted in more than 5 million trees and shrubs being planted on about 5,500 acres of land in the oil sands region. Read more about this 10-year project.
The Algar Restoration Project was a COSIA-funded initiative that aimed to restore disturbances from legacy conventional seismic lines in caribou habitat. The five-year project included tree planting and regeneration protection of about 240 miles of linear disturbances, restoring over 600 acres. We have been monitoring the efficacy of the restoration project for the past six years.
Our Australia Pacific LNG operation in Gladstone has been the primary supporter of the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre since 2013, providing funding assistance for food, medical and veterinary expenses, a rescue boat and volunteer transport in an effort to mitigate threats to the local marine turtle population. The facility is licensed to rehabilitate up to 10 marine turtles and is supported by specialists at the Australia Zoo and Sea World.
U.S. Lower 48
We leverage strategic partnerships to restore biodiversity areas near our operations. In 2019, we launched the Rocky Mountain Rangelands Program with the Bureau of Land Management and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The program supports efforts to maintain and conserve migration route corridors for elk, mule deer and antelope, improve management and restoration of sagebrush rangelands, restore habitat, and expand occupancy of wetland birds and native fish in the western states. Combined habitat outcomes will restore, enhance or improve management on over 1 million acres by 2029. Read more about this program and our other conservation partnerships.
We have a long track record of collaboration with Ducks Unlimited and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to help restore wetland and grassland habitats. Together with Ducks Unlimited we implement coastal restoration and mitigation projects for our Louisiana Coastal Wetlands and work closely with stakeholders on marsh terracing, shoreline stabilization, mangrove planting and coastal ridge restoration. Since inception of this partnership, over 18,000 acres of coastal wetlands have been enhanced or restored. Through the SPIRIT of Conservation & Innovation Program, we support NFWF projects focused on the restoration of habitats and the development of tools and techniques to support conservation. Since 2005, the program has awarded grants worth $12.6 million to conservation groups in 13 states and five countries. Grantees matched this funding with an additional $27.5 million, for a conservation investment of over $40 million. As a result of these investments, more than 315,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat have been conserved, restored or enhanced.
Biodiversity offsets may be used for impacts or disturbances that remain after avoidance, mitigation and rehabilitation/restoration measures have been implemented, or to address a regulatory requirement. Our Biodiversity Offset Guideline provides direction to asset teams where a biodiversity offset is a regulatory requirement or a strategic business preference. We have implemented biodiversity offsets in several areas of our operations.
In Indonesia, there is a regulatory requirement that infrastructure footprint in forests must be offset to balance any disturbance. The Sriwijaya Botanical Garden Rehabilitation program was implemented to fulfill that regulatory requirement. As part of the offset program, 88 acres of peatland within the Sriwijaya Botanical Garden were rehabilitated. The 247-acre garden is in South Sumatra and was established as a center for conservation, research and education, as well as outdoor recreation. The tree density of the peatland rehabilitation program, which was verified by a government team after three years, was 526 trees per acre (1,300 trees per hectare), exceeding the minimum regulatory requirement of 243 trees per acre (600 trees per hectare). The program was awarded a Certification of Appreciation by the Government of South Sumatra during the botanical garden opening in July 2018.
Federal and state environmental approval to develop major construction projects in Australia requires biodiversity offsets to counterbalance disturbance. These offsets can involve conserving, enhancing and/or protecting areas of national environmental significance, marine habitat, endangered and of-concern regional vegetative ecosystems and/or significant fauna and their habitat. We are involved in efforts to protect these critical environments both onshore and offshore.
On Curtis Island, the LNG industry’s landmark conservation initiatives put nearly two-thirds of the island under a conservation management strategy. Combined with the existing national park, more than 59% of the island is actively managed under a conservation management plan, compared to just 2% used by LNG projects on the southern tip. This will protect the island’s unique ecology and heritage for future generations and contributes to conservation of about 100 square miles in perpetuity. Read more about the Curtis Island conservation park which was finalized in 2019.
In Canada, we co-funded the Junction Lake Conservation Site in Northern Alberta as a voluntary offset. The 289-acre conservation area is open to the public for hiking, birdwatching, hunting or berry picking, and provides a unique opportunity to view the Piping Plover, an endangered bird species with a local population of only about 100. The area represents 10% of known habitat for this rare bird. Through this conservation collaboration, we received the first “early action recognition” from the Government of Alberta for a voluntary offset in 2015.
In collaboration with Ducks Unlimited we conserved the Bullshead Conservation Area in southeastern Alberta in 2014. It encompasses more than 2,050 acres of wetland-rich prairie as well as interpretive sites and education programs. Bullshead is a conservation area which includes native grasslands and high-value wildlife and plant species, including large numbers of waterfowl. Protecting the land also meant protecting important habitat features that many of these species need to survive.