Operating in sensitive environments

Report Dec. 20, 2019

In this article

Operating in sensitive environments

Biodiversity and ecosystem services 

ExxonMobil assesses the potential impacts of our operations on local biodiversity and works to mitigate or eliminate those impacts. In making our assessments, we consider several factors, including the vulnerability of individual species, their roles in different ecosystems and habitats, and their cultural significance. We also consider potential impacts to ecosystem services—the direct and indirect benefits people obtain from the environment, such as food, water, cultural benefits and clean air. We take steps to protect particular species and sensitive habitats by modifying our engineering design, construction and operating practices as appropriate. For our major upstream projects, we conduct Environmental, Socioeconomic and Health Impact Assessments in the early stages of a project. 

ExxonMobil supports land management programs that enhance wildlife habitats and provide environmental education to local communities. For example, we collaborate with the Wildlife Habitat Council to manage 16 sites around the world, including forests, wetlands and grasslands. We work with local high schools, universities and education programs to support biological field data collection. We also contribute to research aimed at improving biodiversity management. 

2018 performance and initiatives

ExxonMobil periodically screens the locations of our major operating facilities using databases of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Protected Areas. In 2018, we determined an estimated 27 percent of our major operating facilities are within five kilometers of environmentally sensitive areas. The data informed our emergency response contingency plans and environmental business plans by identifying areas needing special protection. We also invest in research and initiatives designed to protect biodiversity. 

ExxonMobil closely examines the environment of the areas where we operate to identify opportunities for biodiversity protection. For example, in 2014, ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ), Texas A&M University, Galveston University and Qatar University partnered to better understand Qatar’s population of dugongs. Also known as “sea cows,” dugongs are a vulnerable marine species that plays an important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Since the initial agreement in 2014, EMRQ has developed a research, education and conservation program to protect the Qatari dugongs living in the Arabian Gulf. In 2018, EMRQ and Qatar University’s Biomedical Research Center agreed to study the genomic landscape of dugongs in the Arabian Gulf region. The study is the latest in collaborative research efforts to manage Qatar’s dugong population.

Decommissioning and rehabilitation

ExxonMobil’s approach to decommissioning assets varies depending on the type of structure and unique characteristics of a specific site. We incorporate best practices from other projects and expert advice from relevant stakeholders, including fishing communities, environmental organizations, recycling experts and academia.

The process of decommissioning an offshore asset presents complex challenges. Decommissioning plans must consider the specific marine ecosystem, the size and weight of facilities and the inherent risks of removing such facilities. Planning and preparation for decommissioning assets can start up to 10 years prior to actual execution. ExxonMobil has established a dedicated offshore decommissioning center of expertise, which is responsible for planning and managing the decommissioning of our offshore assets.

Rehabilitation is the process of safely repurposing properties that no longer support our operations. We consider the interests of various stakeholders when selecting site-specific approaches to remediate inactive properties. Our goal is to enhance the value of the asset while creating opportunities for beneficial reuse. Environmental and Property Solutions (E&PS), which includes the organization formerly known as ExxonMobil Environmental Services, is our global organization that supports the remediation and stewardship of surplus sites.

2018 performance and initiatives

E&PS has managed more than $7.6 billion of remediation work and returned 2,500 property parcels to beneficial end uses since the group’s creation in 2008. In 2018, E&PS monitored approximately 4,000 active remediation sites in 26 countries. 


Decommissioning efforts at the Adelaide refinery in Australia

ExxonMobil began decommissioning and associated environmental assessment efforts for the Adelaide refinery at Port Stanvac, Australia, in 2010. We continue to collaborate with the South Australian Government, the Environment Protection Authority and the local government to minimize the impact of the multi-year decommissioning efforts on the surrounding community and the environment. Our long-term goal is to remediate the site so it can be returned to beneficial use. 

The Adelaide refinery includes a wharf structure extending into the Gulf St Vincent. We imposed a mandatory 400-meter exclusion zone for operational safety around the wharf, which created a rich ecosystem of mollusks, invertebrates, fish and marine mammals around the structure. To preserve the diverse ecosystem, a project is underway to update the wharf in a way that supports environmental conservation efforts. Recently, ExxonMobil conducted an environmental assessment and worked with government agencies to develop a plan to safely remove portions of the wharf while retaining the reef-like structure closest to the sea floor to support local marine life. 

In addition to protecting aquatic marine life, we managed our activities to protect beach-nesting bird species, such as the vulnerable hooded plover. To achieve this, we modified our work methods to minimize noise and light disturbances. Site personnel also received site-specific training to help monitor local hooded plover nests and hatched chicks.


In some instances, due to geologic conditions, oil and gas operations may induce seismicity. ExxonMobil uses a comprehensive risk management approach to limit induced seismicity. We employ a team of experts to assess the geology and geography of a site. Teams use computer modeling and other advanced tools to understand local conditions and minimize potential impacts. We collaborate with academic organizations, government entities and regulatory agencies to share our approach on induced seismicity management.

Kelvin Amslokwu, employee at the ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company, reviews seismicity data in Houston, Texas.

2018 performance and initiatives

We fund research consortiums at Stanford University, the University of Texas and the Universities of Alberta and Calgary. One such collaboration, between ExxonMobil and Stanford University, resulted in a jointly developed modeling software to assess the potential risk of induced seismicity. We published this tool to assist regulatory agencies and other energy companies to reduce the risk of seismicity from oil and gas operations. 

We also author and co-author publications on induced seismicity. For example, we contributed information and expertise to update a comprehensive technical and regulatory report with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council. The report provides research on best practices for managing the risk of induced seismicity. 

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ExxonMobil’s diverse portfolio of projects requires us to work in remote and sensitive environments, including deepwater and biodiverse locations. Our environmental management approach is guided by an understanding of the potential environmental impacts of our operations and a commitment to sustainably develop, maintain and operate projects using appropriate standards that enable us to ‘Protect Tomorrow. Today.’

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