UK won't call for ban on Arctic drilling

15th January 2013

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  • Resource extraction ,
  • Energy ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Conventional



The government has refused to back a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, saying that enhancing existing safety measures will protect the region from spills

In a report to parliament last autumn, the environment audit committee (EAC) concluded that the oil and gas sector lacked both the infrastructure and techniques to deal with spills in the harsh Arctic environment and recommended the UK government lead calls for an immediate halt to drilling.

The government has rejected the EAC’s advice, however. In its official response to the EAC, the government argues that the sector’s implementation of the “highest environmental and drilling standards”, efforts to improve spill prevention and response mechanisms and an international agreement on maritime conservation, were “more likely to be effective in protecting the environment than pressing for a complete moratorium”.

The government has also rejected the recommendations by MPs that it should encourage Arctic states to adopt stricter environmental standards and develop a pan-Arctic regime that would impose unlimited financial liability on companies for spills.

While stating that the UK would continue to support the Arctic Council’s in developing best practice for dealing with oil spills in the region, the government says that without first-hand experience of regulating drilling in the Arctic it was “not best placed” to proffer advice, and that it was up to states in the region to impose liability rules on firms.

Joan Walley, chair of the EAC, criticised the government’s response, arguing that the UK should be helping to drive international action to protect the Arctic.

“A few years ago the prime minister rode with huskies in the Arctic to demonstrate his commitment on environmental issues, but now he is being asked to protect that pristine wilderness for real he has refused to take a lead on the issue,” she said.

“Last summmer's record Arctic sea ice melt should be seen as a wake-up call to governments to work together to protect this region, not a starting gun on a race to exploit its resources.”

In its report last year, the EAC raised concerns that the UK’s support for fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic contradicted its policies aimed at tackling climate change. However, the government says that with other reserves of oil and gas dwindling, drilling in the Arctic would ensure security of energy supplies for the UK without further damaging international goals to limit global warming to 2°C.

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