Case 1: PDVSA
In order to determine priority conservation areas and to provide a visual representation of the ecosystem and human uses in the region, the project partners identified and mapped a combination of conservation targets and human uses. Experts identified all significant human uses and threats to the conservation targets (e.g., oil and gas exploitation impacts, river pollution and drainage, urban development, trawl fishing practices, maritime routes, aquaculture farms). The potential impacts of these threats and human uses were assessed on every conservation target.
To assist in the selection process, scientists used Marxan software to identify an initial set of priority conservation areas. Expert review and collaboration between PDVSA, Intecmar and The Nature Conservancy resulted in a final set of 20 priority sites with a collective surface area of 4.4 million hectares. This constitutes 20.5% of the overall study area and 37.8% of the marine areas within the continental shelf (depth less than 200 meters).
A number of the priority conservation areas overlapped partially or entirely with anticipated oil and gas exploitation blocks. For these sites, the study attempted to predict the specific exploration activities and infrastructure that would be utilized, such as the construction of platforms, wells and pipelines. Construction and activity locations were also predicted. Scenarios were run for various sites to gain a solid understanding of the potential impacts and to create a basis for providing guidelines and environmentally conscious practices to PDVSA.
An Oil Impact Best Practice Matrix was created to provide detailed guidelines and practices for each stage of exploration and exploitation. The suggested guidelines aimed to minimize impacts to marine biodiversity. These best environmental practices were provided to PDVSA and offshore operators to guide exploration policy and activities. For instance, dredging offshore disturbs the benthic environment, causing changes in water quality and sediment characteristics. Best environmental practices suggest that the oil industry should consider the sensitivity of the area and select a location of low impact for deposition of dredged material away from shallow water sensitive habitats. A conservation strategy that includes viability indicators was developed for each conservation target. These set of quantitative variables will be useful for monitoring the status of biodiversity in face of future oil and gas activities.
A final set of 20 priority sites was selected, with a collective surface area of 4.4 million hectares. This constitutes 20.5% of the overall study area and 37.8% of the marine areas within the continental shelf.