- Mauritania's interim Head of State, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, this year led his poor country into the club of oil producing nations. As its offshore oil platforms have started producing, Mauritanian authorities now discover the environmental risks and start insisting on strict environmental standards for oil exploitation.
The government this month of Mauritania asked for the assistance of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to ensure the offshore oil exploitation at Chinguetti, offshore the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, comply with the best international environmental protection standards. Interim President Vall had made the request in a meeting with several IUCN officials in Nouakchott earlier this month, the environmentalists report.
The Nouakchott government in particular was said to be concerned with the highly valuable fisheries of the West African coast. The income from fish exports - currently accounting for fifty percent of Mauritania's state revenue - could be jeopardised by oil spills and pollution, state officials had by now realised.
Meeting with the international environmentalists, Colonel Vall had underlined that the revenues from petroleum mining are only expected to last for a few decades, whereas the rich fish resources should provide a basis of food and income to the Mauritanian people "forever".
Further concerns are Mauritania's relations with its neighbouring countries, who would also be impacted by potential spills, and the fragile coastal ecosystems of Mauritania, which include the two internationally-renowned national parks of the Banc d'Arguin and Diawling. According to IUCN, the coast of Mauritania is in one of the most highly fish-populated seas in the world.
With petroleum extraction starting last week, the government of Mauritania feels the environmental and social impacts of oil exploitation had "not yet been fully considered," according to IUCN.
In a recent speech, the Mauritanian interim leader had emphasised the importance of respecting "the highest environmental standards" to conserve marine resources, especially since spills by default were the responsibility of the state of Mauritania. Further, the Mauritanian government had just signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and expected oil companies to demonstrate transparency.
The fact that oil companies mostly originate from developed nations had only made Mauritania more determined to adopt an environmental protection strategy for the Chinguetti oil field that is as rigorous and effective as those in force in those countries, Colonel Vall had indicated.
The government of Mauritania therefore had requested the IUCN's help to minimise the risks of oil exploitation. IUCN has twenty years of work experience with Mauritanian institutions on sustainable management of strategic resources and is strongly represented in the country.
At the Nouakchott meeting, the IUCN's William Jackson had expressed the environmentalist group's willingness to place its international skills at Mauritania's disposal. "We aim to help ensure that offshore and continental petroleum mining will be carried out according to the most rigorous international standards, as for example those in force in the North Sea," said Dr Jackson. He further promised to help Mauritania "to acquire genuine expertise in this area."
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