EGU23-13984, updated on 01 Dec 2023
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The vulnerability of tropical peatlands to oil and gas exploration and production

Ian Lawson1, Euridice Honorio1, Luis Andueza2, Lydia Cole1, Greta Dargie3, Althea Davies1, Nina Laurie1, Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood1, Katherine Roucoux1, Michael Simpson1, and Christopher Schulz1
Ian Lawson et al.
  • 1University of St Andrews, Geography and Sustainable Development, St Andrews, United Kingdom of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales (
  • 2Kings College London, International Development, London, United Kingdom
  • 3University of Leeds, Department of Geography, Leeds, United Kingdom

The oil and gas industry has a long history of operating in peat-forming regions in the tropics, but the extent to which peatland ecosystems are vulnerable to those operations is not well understood. This knowledge gap is concerning given the continuing drive to explore peatland areas for hydrocarbons. Here we present an analysis of the exposure of tropical peatlands to the oil and gas industry and review what is known of the peatlands’ sensitivity to that exposure. We show that across the tropics, oil and gas infrastructure is more concentrated in peat-forming regions than we would expect by chance alone, which we suggest is likely due to the persistence over geological timescales of basins which can be suitable both for forming oil and gas source rocks, and for encouraging the poorly-drained conditions that support peat accumulation. Focusing on a case study from Peru, we discuss the extent to which peatlands as ecosystems are known to be sensitive to oil industry activities. These sensitivities may include deforestation and habitat degradation/disturbance during survey and exploration work, and contamination by produced water and by oil spills. Drawing on interdisciplinary research, we also explore the socio-economic and cultural consequences of the oil industry on local communities over the past fifty years. In some cases, enhanced immigration and cultural change (e.g. integration into markets) appear to have had profound effects not just on the members of those communities, but also on the extent to which they have used and altered the surrounding peatland ecosystems. We go on to explore the development of environmental safeguards, which have tended to become more stringent over time but which have not yet succeeded in preventing (e.g.) oil spills. We conclude by identifying key areas where further research is needed, notably in exploring the direct effects of oil and gas industry activities on the carbon storage function of peatlands.

How to cite: Lawson, I., Honorio, E., Andueza, L., Cole, L., Dargie, G., Davies, A., Laurie, N., Okafor-Yarwood, I., Roucoux, K., Simpson, M., and Schulz, C.: The vulnerability of tropical peatlands to oil and gas exploration and production, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 23–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-13984,, 2023.