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Conservation Planning for Smart Infrastructure

The Nature Conservancy and the Shell Oil Company

The Challenge

For 60 years the Nature Conservancy’s work has been guided by a commitment to science and a comprehensive planning approach—helping to determine where to work and what to conserve. But in an increasingly crowded world, with growing demands for food, water, energy, minerals, and other resources, maintaining healthy natural systems will require a more integrated and comprehensive vision—one that better takes into account the needs of people and nature.

Shell is interested in facing this challenge head on, by taking science-based planning to a new level to support sustainable landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes. Energy development, whether in the form of nature gas drilling, offshore oil and gas development, or bio fuels expansion needs to be planned in a way that addresses impacts to communities and the environment, and on the overall impacts of development. Shell has recognized that this approach is crucial for the sustainability not only for communities and the environmental but also for their business.

The Commitment

The Conservancy’s Development by Design approach helps guide sustainable development decision-making by looking beyond individual project locations to identifying the cumulative impacts of development on natural resources across whole ecosystems. Development by Design integrates landscape-level conservation planning with the mitigation hierarchy, which is to avoid, minimize, and offset impacts to the environment and is traditionally applied on a project basis. By planning mitigation on a landscape-level, companies and governments can dramatically improve traditional mitigation efforts, yielding better conservation results and often reducing project costs.

Since 2009, Shell has been dedicated to increasing biodiversity conservation in the energy sector and help businesses like their own collaborate more closely with biodiversity experts. For nearly a decade, they have committed to operate responsibly in some areas that are under protection or rich in biodiversity. These desires led them to work with the Conservancy on a variety of projects including funding of conservation pilot programs in Wisconsin and Tennessee to implement watershed-scale mitigation. Additional funding from Shell has seen over $3 million in philanthropic giving directed towards Conservancy conservation projects across the U.S.

Solutions in Action

Shell’s support has led to Conservancy mitigation planning projects around the world. In Colombia, the Conservancy has been working at the Magdalena River watershed to evaluate potential impacts to local ecosystems due to hydropower expansion projects. Specific focus is directed at the water flow levels, and helping to select a pilot conservation area to analyze environmental impacts of new development and guide future water concessions.

Shell also funded development of a Landscape Assessment Tool now hosted by the American Wind and Wildlife Institute that helps guide landscape-level wind development planning away from the most sensitive natural areas and resources.

In the U.S., Shell contributed to the Conservancy’s OysterBreaktm Project to provide shoreline protection in Louisiana’s Vermilion Bay by constructing a living shoreline. Shell’s contribution came via a pass-through grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as well as $100,000 gift directly from the Company. With successful construction of a 0.6-mile of oyster reef, the project is nearly complete and the Conservancy continues to monitor the health and functionality of the reef.

A Sustainable Future

Moving forward, the Conservancy and Shell are looking to expand the reach of Development by Design projects and find new ways to use mitigation planning to ensure ecosystems are protected and preserved. In the Appalachian mountains of the U.S., the organizations are working on a pilot project to better understand environmentally sensitive areas and identify opportunities to minimize potential impacts associated with shale gas development across a large landscape. The goal of that effort would be to work together to protect high priority conservation targets from the impacts of surface infrastructure development while maximizing resource production.

Shell is also working with the Conservancy to protect high conservation priority areas. Earlier in 2012, the company committed $500,000 towards restoration efforts on Shamrock Island, a 110-acre island located west of Mustang Island in Corpus Christi Bay, off the coast of Texas. Shamrock Island is among the most important islands in the western Gulf of Mexico for large colonies of sea and shore birds. Accessible only by boat, as many as 24,000 nesting birds rely on the island each year between February and August. Over the years, crashing waves and strong winds have pounded the island’s western side, raking sand from its beaches, uprooting sea grass, and breaching the uplands that shelter the islands critical lagoons and wetlands.

The Conservancy and Shell are also building off of the experience gained through the Vermilion Bay OysterBreak project to develop a green infrastructure pilot project testing whether oyster reefs can be used to protect Shell’s pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico from erosion and sea wave energy through the construction of oyster reefs. If successful this project will be an example of how living, natural systems can be used to protect business assets.

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