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Abstract

Engaging with biodiversity and integrating its conservation into operational practices has become increasingly important for the energy sector since the overlap between geographical areas of biodiversity value and oil and gas reserves has significantly increased, worldwide, in the last decade.

Biodiversity, the variability among living organisms (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Article 2, 1992), is at the basis of the integrity and the effective working of ecosystems and therefore can be used as a tool to evaluate their status and the impacts of human activities upon them. Livelihoods and businesses rely on healthy, well-functioning ecosystems for raw material inputs, water, energy sources, and production process inputs. By conserving biodiversity, we secure the services the ecosystems provide and upon which all economies and human well-being rely.

Despite the socio-economic importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, their values are currently not well reflected in economic and development policies, investment decisions and private consumption patterns. The result is a continuous downward trend of biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem services under the pressure of current patterns of production and consumption of goods and services to meet human needs (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).

In response, the international community has made commitments to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and new approaches to conservation and incentives for restoration, through market-based mechanisms, are sought. Most recently, the central role of natural ecosystems in greenhouse gas regulation and climate change mitigation have placed biodiversity firmly on the international agenda.

The oil & gas industry faces the challenge of understanding what biodiversity conservation means in practical terms and how to include biodiversity considerations into projects and site activities. This needs to be done through existing Environmental Management Systems and risk assessment tools, which must therefore be adapted to fully incorporate biodiversity as an everyday part of operational practice.

Besides affecting licence to operate and representing a competitive advantage for the access to new resources, being a biodiversity-responsible operator helps to reduce regulatory, reputational and financial risks. Furthermore, it meets societal, legislative and financial expectations that require operators to assess and minimize the footprint of onshore and offshore activities and to manage natural resources sustainably.

Our engagement with biodiversity begins as a key element of environmental protection and sustainable development. Working in partnership with Fauna and Flora International, an NGO leader in conservation, we proceeded in parallel with field projects and with the review of the environmental management system documents and risk assessment tools. The field projects were carried out in operating sites representing different onshore and offshore sensitive environments.

The approach we developed, putting into practice conservation principles and sectoral guidelines, includes a full appraisal of ecological and biodiversity issues related to projects or site operations. This is done through the identification and assessment of all potential impacts (primary, secondary, cumulative and perceived), at all relevant levels of biodiversity (e.g. ecosystem, habitat, species and genetic level), looking at different spatial-temporal scales and considering ecological, social and economic changes at the same time. This methodology allows the recognition and effective management, both in the short and long-term, of operational and reputational risks linked to ecological and biodiversity aspects that usually are not fully covered following a compliance-based approach.

This approach has been tested in the Agri River Valley (Italy), the Ecuadorian Amazon (Villano Field), Barents Sea (Norway) and has provided the rationale for the biodiversity risk assessment currently underway on the North Slope (Nikaitchuq Block, Alaska). These field projects will be discussed as practical examples of how to deliver biodiversity conservation in site operations. Lessons learned have been incorporated into the ESIA standard as a key step towards the integration of biodiversity considerations in company's operations worldwide.

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