Exploration and production of oil or gas in protected nature areas require a comprehensive and flexible approach in order to adapt the project to the specificity of the respective conservation objectives. Approvability can only be achieved if all reasonable technical and logistic alternatives, which are able to minimize the environmental impact, are exhausted. These principles are illustrated by experiences from 10 years of handling different projects within Germany’s largest oil field located within a Wadden sea national park: the laying of two pipelines and two sea power cables, the establishment of extensive scour protection and the preparatory planning for four exploration wells.

All projects had to be assessed against the conservation objectives of different regimes: national park, biosphere reserve, nationally protected habitat, European Habitat Directive, European Bird Directive, special species protection and – since 2009 – UNESCO world heritage site. The examples illustrate in which way the technical and logistic concepts were – sometimes radically – changed and adapted to the conservation needs of the area. The main topics to be addressed were:

Strict avoidance of any contamination of the environment (zero discharge principle)

Avoidance of sensitive periods,

Avoidance of raising soil temperature more than two Kelvin,

Minimization of area use

Extensive monitoring

Implementation of compensation measures (revitalization of salt marshes)

These examples of good practice show how an environmental optimization of projects can lead to successful application procedures (even confirmed in court cases). Thus it can enable the exploration and production of oil or gas in protected and environmentally highly sensitive areas. In this way environmental impact assessments should not be seen as static evaluations but rather as a process during which a project is adapted and optimized towards approvability.

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