Gas drilling in the Med could cause 'irreversible damage'

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Critical biodiversity hotspots are under threat as plans are unveiled to drill for deep sea gas in the eastern Mediterranean and the Nile Delta.

Colossal deep-sea gas fields have been discovered in the Levant Sea 135 km off the coast of Israel and are causing a scramble to start drilling.

The gas field is the biggest deep water gas find in over a decade with an estimated volume of anything from 16-122 trillion cubic feet of gas and an additional 1.7 billion barrels of oil.

The WWF have expressed their deep concerns that any drilling will be both ignoring legally binding restrictions on deep sea drilling as well as irreparably damaging the marine biodiversity which plays host to a number of rare species including deep-sea sponges, worms, molluscs and cold water corals.

Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean said: "The deep-sea floor in the Levant is teeming with life of a very special and unique kind. WWF strongly condemns blind drilling on biodiversity hotspots that could cause irreversible damage.

"These unique marine ecosystems are particularly fragile, and vulnerable to external interference – they have evolved in a highly stable, low-energy environment which has led to the creation of exceptionally rare ecosystems."

The Levant Sea is already protected from deep sea trawl fishing and other potentially harmful activities are also limited due to the sea bed’s value and fragility.

The West Nile Delta gas field area, 80km northwest of Alexandria also hosts a unique biological community reliant on the gases seeping from the sea bed and has been shortlisted for designation as a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI).

WWF is calling on the eastern Mediterranean states – particularly on Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon – and on the European Union, to ensure that full Environmental Impact Assessments are carried out and that the highest environmental standards are set with regards to any drilling.

Tudela reiterated: "Careful and comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessments should be carried out specifically to account for the potential effects of drilling on the integrity, structure and functioning of these deep-sea ecosystems – before any gas explorers even set foot in this part of the Mediterranean.

"Once a deep-sea community has been drilled through, it can take a millennium or more before the unique micro-ecosystem grows again - so the most fragile and valuable species and under-sea areas must be left untouched by gas development."