The proposed Cambo oil field project could jeopardise hundreds of species and contribute to the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.
Environmentalists said pipelines would cut through the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt, a UK Marine Protected Area.
The warning comes amid controversy over whether the project, thought to contain hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, should get the go-ahead.
The UK government said an environmental impact assessment would be carried out.
The Cambo oil field is situated approximately 125km (75 miles) to the west of the Shetland Islands in water depths of between 1,050m (3,445ft) and 1,100m (3,609ft).
Five different water masses meet in the area, bringing nutrients that help deep-living cold water species to thrive, including sponges known as “cheese-bottoms”, worms, and long-lived molluscs called ocean quahog.
- Fossil fuel industry has biggest delegation at COP26
- ‘Cheesy-bottom sponge belt’ focus of new expedition
- Is a new oil field climate change hypocrisy?
A review from the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide warned that the project “could jeopardise hundreds of species over several decades, as well as livelihoods”.
Sixteen marine protection and climate groups – including Greenpeace UK, WWF UK, the Marine Conservation Society and Friends of the Earth Scotland – have written to the offshore oil and gas environmental regulator, Opred, asking it to include marine impacts when assessing the Cambo drilling application.
They raised concerns about the likely impacts the pipelines would have on the seabed, on hundreds of marine species and on the local fishing industry, and underline the devastation that an oil spill in the area would cause.