Arctic marine conditions contribute to an oil spill “response gap” that effectively limits the ability to clean up after an oil spill.
A new report commissioned by WWF concludes that the only way to avoid the potentially devastating environmental risks is to ensure that no more of the Arctic is opened up to oil development until the response gap is closed.
“The ability to effectively clean up an arctic marine oil spill is a critical component of the risk equation,” said Dr Neil Hamilton, Director of the WWF International Arctic Programme. “The fact that a catastrophic spill might exceed the operating limits of existing oil spill response technologies is a strong argument for a moratorium until the response gap is filled.”
According to the report Oil Spill Response Challenges in Arctic Waters, arctic conditions can impact on both the probability that a spill will occur from oil and gas operations and the consequences of such a spill. The same conditions that contribute to oil spill risks (including lack of natural light, extreme cold, moving ice floes, high wind and low visibility) can also make spill response operations extremely difficult or totally ineffective.
“The Arctic offers the highest level of ecological sensitivity and the lowest level of capacity to clean up after an accident,” said James Leaton, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF-UK. “This combination makes it unacceptable to expose the Arctic to an unfettered scramble for oil.”
The report recognizes that significant efforts are ongoing to test and improve spill response technologies for use in arctic conditions. However, until such technologies are field-proven and market-ready, additional prevention and planning measures are required to eliminate oil spill risks during times when response operations are not feasible.
WWF has also called for an international mandatory instrument to regulate shipping in the Arctic, as shipping imposes great risks to the Arctic Environment. Routing, zero-discharge zones, areas to be avoided and obligations to keep a certain amount of “self-help” oil spill response equipment on board are among the needed measures.
The report can be downloaded at: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/nuka_oil_spill_response_report_final_jan_08.pdf
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