Biodiversity is vital in relation to ensuring the stability of ecosystems and providing sources of food, medicines and natural resources. It also has great spiritual, cultural and aesthetic significance. By mapping environmental baselines, planning activities and monitoring during and after our activities, we seek to minimise impacts and conserve biodiversity and important ecosystem functions.

The following describes our 2011 performance and how we systematically take a precautionary approach to biodiversity challenges.

In 2011, Statoil was engaged in exploration and/or production activities in the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, the Chukchi Sea in Alaska, off the coasts of Egypt and Tanzania, and in the boreal forest of Alberta, Canada. None of our activities in 2011 were carried out inside or bordering on protected areas or locations listed in accordance with the International Conservation Union's (IUCN) classification system.

Studying the Chukchi Sea

Statoil is the operator of several licences - and holds stakes in licences operated by ConocoPhillips - in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of northwest Alaska.

We are working jointly with ConocoPhillips and Shell on a comprehensive ecological science programme in the area. The studies were initiated by ConocoPhillips in 2008, and Statoil joined in 2010. The programme is a multi-year, multi-discipline research programme based on a broad ecosystem approach. It covers both physical oceanography and marine ecology (plankton, benthic communities, fish, seabirds and marine mammals). An data-sharing agreement has been signed with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the USA.

Co-existing with kittiwakes

Following the construction of the Snøhvit LNG plant at Melkøya in Northern Norway, kittiwake seabirds established a breeding colony in the man-made cliffs alongside the LNG facilities.

The breeding population of kittiwakes has declined significantly in Norway, and the species is now included on the official Norwegian Red List as a critically endangered species. In contrast, the colony at Melkøya is growing steadily (from around 1,700 pairs in 2010 to 2,400 pairs in 2011). Studies carried out in 2011 documented high chick survival rates - significantly higher, in fact, than most other kittiwake colonies in the northern part of Norway. An extension of the LNG plant is in the planning phase, and studies have been initiated aimed at continued coexistence with and conservation of Melkøya's kittiwake colony.

Tanzania sensitivity atlas

As part of oil spill contingency planning in connection with the Zafarani exploration well off the coast of Tanzania, Statoil has initiated environmental and socio-economic sensitivity mapping of the entire Tanzanian coastline.

The coastal atlas of Tanzania covers protected areas of national and international importance, as well as environmental resources of particular local importance, including sensitive habitats and species such as mangroves and coral reefs, marine turtle nesting beaches, humpback whales, whale sharks, dugongs and coelechants. The atlas also covers socio-economic interests such as tourism and fisheries.

The project - called the Tanzania Sensitivity Atlas (TANSEA) - has been carried out in cooperation with the University of Dar Es Salaam and local consultants. It is recognised by the Tanzanian authorities. The project has now been expanded to include participation by other major oil and gas companies in the region.

Environmental monitoring

Environmental monitoring (EM) is helpful in protecting biodiversity and essential if Statoil is to achieve its goal of zero harmful discharges.

In 2011, we awarded the world's first contract for an integrated environmental monitoring system (EM) for oil and gas activities. We also initiated an R&D programme to develop "integrated environmental monitoring", with the objective of utilising real-time sensor-based systems for environmental monitoring in our future exploration and production activities. The ambition is to link environmental risk assessments more strongly to ongoing operations in order to enable immediate action to be taken to protect the environment if necessary.

If we succeed in transforming environmental monitoring from being a separate task to an integral part of day-to-day production, we will achieve even safer operations and reduced costs.

Statoil has already conducted three studies relating to sensor-based environmental monitoring - at the Morvin field off the coast of Norway in connection with drilling production wells in the vicinity of a cold-water coral structure (2010), the monitoring of natural marine processes of the coast of the northern Norwegian region of Vesterålen (2009-2011), and the still-ongoing environmental monitoring of calcareous algae habitats and the potential impact of discharges of drill cuttings on the Peregrino field off the coast of Brazil (2010-2013).

Identifying high-value biodiversity

Statoil supports the maintenance and development of the World Database on Protected Areas and other GIS-based databases containing information on high-value biodiversity areas. This work is done through the Proteus programme[1], which is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) World Conservation Centre.

We use these databases actively in early-phase environmental risk evaluations and as input when deciding where to operate. Recognising that significant biodiversity value exists outside protected areas and needs to be considered in project development, Statoil is working with the University of Oxford in the UK to develop an automatic web-based tool that can assess the ecological value of land outside protected areas. Ecological factors currently considered using this tool include biodiversity, vulnerability, fragmentation, connectivity and resilience. The tool, which is capable of providing ecological valuations for parcels of land at 300-metre resolution, uses publicly available data and has almost global coverage. The tool will be refined and tested in 2012.