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Drilling for gas could be 'catastrophic,' environment bodies warn.


Poly Pantelides

DRILLING for gas in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone could be an environmental catastrophe in the making threatening a unique ecosystem hosting migratory species of sperm and fin whales, striped and bottlenose dolphins and rare corals the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and international organisation for the protection of oceans, Oceana have warned.

The Texas-based energy company Noble Energy will be drilling for gas from September within the Eratosthenes Seamount area which the UN's General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) has designated a Fisheries Restricted Area.

In addition to banning deep-sea fishing in the area, the GFCM calls for measures to protect the zone "from the impact of any other activity jeopardising the conservation of the features that characterise these particular habitats," a call echoed by the European Union's Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou told the Mail yesterday that "all legal steps were taken correctly" by the state with impact studies carried out on the strategy of finding oil and gas in the area and the government eager to tick all the right boxes.

"But there is the question of whether the study was done correctly or else simply to gratify the environmentalists and tourist agencies who cannot afford any bad publicity," Theopemptou added.

For the Mediterranean, "the consequences of an oil spill" would entail "irreversible damageC* due to the long term effects of such a disaster on fisheries and coastal activities," the coordinator of Oceana's Brussels office, Nicolas Fournier told the States News Service.

Only 0.94 per cent of Cyprus' national waters are protected, a figure falling behind the 10 per cent internationally-set objective.

Cyprus' failure to implement environment directives has been noted by the European Commission which has threatened legal action if the government does not pass three overdue environment directives, two of which involve taking measures to prevent sea and ship pollution.

Three weeks ago the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure ordered Noble Energy to stop its drilling activities in a nearby area offshore Israel, the Leviathan field, after the company identified water flowing from the well to the sea floor.

However, the company was allowed to resume drilling few kilometres away of the previous site.

The minister of agriculture and the environment and the minister of commerce were unavailable for comments yesterday.

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Jun 28, 2011
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