Stronger safeguards for Arctic drilling needed: UK MPs

Posted on 20 September 2012  | 
A new report from the Environmental Audit Committee of the United Kingdom House of Commons calls for a halt on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic until stronger safeguards are put in place. The report could not have come at a more crucial time for the region, as Arctic ice cover reached a record-breaking low extent earlier this week.

“The Arctic is facing rapid meltdown and today, with this report, we’ve seen politicians from all sides working together to consult scientists, stakeholders and civil society", says WWF's Rod Downie. "Now the UK government, and governments and industries across the world, need to heed the warning signs from the Arctic and act with urgency and ambition to tackle climate change.”

The Committee calls for a halt on drilling until:
  • A pan-Arctic oil spill response standard is in place
  • A stricter financial liability regime for oil and gas operations is introduced that requires companies to prove that they can meet the costs of cleaning up.
  • An oil and gas industry group is set up to peer-review companies’ spill response plans and operating practices, reporting publicly.
  • Further independent research and testing on oil spill response techniques in Arctic conditions is conducted, including an assessment of their environmental side-effects.
  • An internationally recognised environmental sanctuary is established in at least part of the Arctic.
While the UK is a non-Arctic nation, its ties to the region are significant -- it's a seat for oil and gas interests (Cairn Energy, Shell and BP have headquarters there), globally relevant and influential polar science, and maritime insurance and finance. The Polar Code, which deals with Arctic shipping, is under negotiation at IMO London.

Receding ice in the Arctic is spurring a "gold rush" for oil and gas without proper preparation, proven prevention techniques or response infrastructure in place. The potential for environmental damage is enormous, as demonstrated by a recent oil spill model for the Prirazlomnoye project in Russia's Pechora Sea. The abrupt cancellation of a Shell drilling project off Alaska earlier this week further underlines the lack of preparation by governments and oil companies for the real risk and unpredictable nature of working in the Arctic.

Read more:

Shell plans to begin drilling in the Beaufort Sea as soon as July 1 and expand drilling operations to the Chukchi Sea soon thereafter.
Shell plans to begin drilling in the Beaufort Sea and expand drilling operations to the Chukchi Sea soon thereafter.
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