MPs call for halt to Arctic oil exploration

21st September 2012


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Drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic must stop until firms can prove they are able to deal with possible spills, MPs have warned

As scientists confirmed that Arctic ice levels had reached an all-time low, the environmental audit committee has published a report revealing that oil spills in the Arctic could go on for six months under winter ice, causing “catastrophic” and long-term damage to the environment, because there are no clean up plans proven to work in the region.

“The infrastructure to mount a big clean-up operation is simply not in place and conventional oil spill response techniques have not been proven to work in such severe conditions,” said Joan Walley, chair of the committee.

“The oil companies should come clean and admit that dealing with an oil spill in the icy extremes of the Arctic would be exceptionally difficult.”

The report concludes that no drilling should take place until companies’ oil spill response methods have been independently verified as working as well in Arctic conditions as they do in more temperate climates.

The committee calls for all Arctic states to amend national regulation imposing the “highest available environmental standards” on companies wanting to drill in the region, as well as requiring the “best available” technologies.

Before being granted drilling rights, firms must demonstrate that they can afford to clean up any spills that might occur, the report states. And, it recommends the creation of a tough region-wide regime with the authority to impose “preferably unlimited” financial liability for the costs of spills on the drilling companies.

The committee also argues that before any further exploration is undertaken an oil-spill response standard is developed and put in place, and an industry peer group established to review companies’ clean up plans and operating procedures.

The report, “Protecting the Arctic”, also discusses the increasingly obvious impacts climate change is having on the region, and what this will mean for the planet in future. It warns that with the ice cap melting at a record rate “the general view that it is not at risk of a summer collapse in the next few years may need to be revised”.

With significant risks posed by a collapse to both sea-levels and to the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, the committee urges the UK and international governments to reinvigorate their efforts to tackle climate change.

Walley commented: “The shocking speed at which the Arctic sea ice is melting should be a wake-up call to the world that we need to phase out fossil fuels fast.

“Instead we are witnessing a reckless gold rush in this pristine wilderness as big companies and governments make a grab for the world’s last untapped oil and gas reserves.”

The green party’s Caroline Lucas, also a member of the committee, said: “The UK government now has a responsibility to … do all it can to urgently secure a moratorium on Arctic drilling – starting with companies registered in this country.”

The report followed confirmation from Shell that it had halted test drilling at its site in Alaska due to equipment failure, and that it would not be drilling for oil in the region again this year.


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