Oil drilling suspension should top agenda at arctic emergencies meeting



Posted on 16 June 2010  | 
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig on fire, Louisiana, Gulf Coast, USA
© United States Coast GuardEnlarge
Vorkuta, Russia: As oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico from a sunken BP drilling rig, a key meeting of arctic countries starting today needs to push for a suspension of all arctic drilling until the region can deal with the risks, WWF said.

Greg Bourne, a former BP executive now with the global environment organisation, said imagining nations could deal with a drilling accident in the Arctic with current technology and resources would be “a triumph of hope over experience and reason”.

The Arctic Council recently updated and revised guidelines for offshore oil and gas drilling, but those guidelines, even if implemented, would not go far enough to prevent or contain catastrophic spills such as last year’s Timor Sea blowout which took 73 days to stop or the current Gulf of Mexico oil confirmed as the worst in US history and still unresolved.

WWF maintains that the revised guidelines do not go nearly far enough and the Arctic Council Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group needs to use the Vorkuta meeting commencing today to strongly urge the Council to impose a halt to drilling plans for this year over a wide spread of the Arctic.

This year exploratory drilling is scheduled to occur off the west coast of Greenland. In Norway, the government is considering opening up areas of high ecological value outside of Lofoten and Vesterålen for oil exploration. In Russia, exploratory drilling is scheduled in the Kara Sea and the Ob river estuary near the Yamal Peninsula.

Nationally, no new drilling should occur until there is the capacity to rapidly and effectively respond to spills in arctic waters.

“It is time for the arctic states to recognize that offshore oil drilling with current technology and response capability poses unacceptable risks in the Arctic” says Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil & Gas Environmental Policy Officer for WWF-Russia who is attending the Vorkuta meeting.

“Norway and the United States have already taken the first step, by putting off any further arctic offshore drilling until an investigation into the Gulf disaster is over. But we already know that whatever that investigation reveals, it will not diminish the risks of arctic drilling.”

Arctic offshore oil drilling is facing increasing opposition from local peoples. A recent poll commissioned by WWF-Norway indicated that almost one out of four Norwegians has become more negative to oil exploration in Lofoten and Vesterålen following the Gulf spill. In both Canada and Alaska, local Indigenous peoples are also opposing offshore oil development until or unless they can be assured that it can be done safely.

"The offshore exploration and production industry are pushing at the very limits of technology and the ability to safely handle and control that technology," says Greg Bourne, CEO of WWF-Australia, and formerly a Drilling Manager and Regional President with BP in Latin America and then Australasia.

"The Gulf of Mexico is the world's centre of drilling technology with thousands of engineers and immense resources in terms of boats, planes, control equipment and manufacturing facilities - and even here it is proving immensely difficult to handle the tragic event of the Gulf of Mexico blowout.

“To even conceive of being able to control a similar event in the Arctic would be a triumph of hope over experience and reason. The consequences of such an event in the cold climate would lead to a persistence of ecological damage over many decades," Bourne says.

WWF is currently updating a study of the oil spill response gap in the Arctic, showing that current technology is incapable of effectively cleaning up oil spills in ice covered waters.

Link to web-quality material: http://www.youtube.com/user/WWFNorge#p/a/u/0/dCSbY5nsjks

For further information:

In Vorkuta, Russia: Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil & Gas Environmental Policy Officer, WWF-Russia, aknizhnikov@wwf.ru, Tel: +7 910 4280514

International: Patrick Lewis, Responsible Industry Officer, WWF Arctic Programme, plewis@wwf.no, Tel: +47 92 62 30 30

About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with more than 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

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The Deepwater Horizon oil rig on fire, Louisiana, Gulf Coast, USA
© United States Coast Guard Enlarge
A WWF-Norway staff member assists in the clean-up after an oil spill off the coast of Langesund, Norway in July 2009.
A WWF-Norway staff member assists in the clean-up after an oil spill off the coast of Langesund, Norway in July 2009.
© WWF-Norway / Elizabeth Kjono Enlarge

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