Halt the Arctic oil rush until greater spill protection is in place, warn MPs
THE “Arctic oil rush” should be halted until greater protection against spills which could devastate the environment is put in place, a report by MPs say today.
The Commons environmental audit committee also calls for an internationally recognised nature sanctuary to be set up to protect at least part of the area before any more exploration takes place.
After questioning oil firms, committee members concluded that their methods for responding to an accident had not been shown to work in the extreme icy conditions, where a well blow-out just before winter could be “devastating” for wildlife, as freezing conditions could prevent efforts to stop a leak for up to six months.
Today’s report follows confirmation that Arctic sea ice has melted to a record low this summer, making the region increasingly accessible for further exploitation by energy giants.
It comes a month after Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy, which gave evidence to the committee, was criticised by environmentalists after announcing plans to keep drilling in the Arctic “to meet everyday demand” despite failing to have any commercial success there so far.
Committee chairwoman Joan Walley said oil companies should “come clean” and admit that infrastructure for a major clean-up operation was “simply not in place and conventional oil-spill response techniques have not been proven to work in such severe conditions”.
She added: “We heard compelling evidence that if a blow-out occurred just before the dark Arctic winter returned, it may not be possible to cap it until the following summer, potentially leaving oil spewing out under the ice for six months or more, with devastating consequences for wildlife.”
Committee member and Green MP Caroline Lucas added: “The Arctic oil rush is bringing unprecedented risks to the area, and it’s now clear that the consequences of any potential spill would be catastrophic.”
MPs also called for a pan-Arctic standard for responding to oil spills and stricter financial liability rules requiring companies to prove they can meet the costs of cleaning up after a disaster.
An oil and gas industry group should be set up to review companies’ oil-spill plans and report publicly on them, the committee added, with more independent research and testing on exploration techniques and their environmental impact.
A Friends of the Earth Scotland supported the committee’s demands for a moratorium. A spokesman said: “Cairn shouldn’t be drilling in the Arctic in the first place, and indeed couldn’t be, were it not for the fact that climate change is opening up this territory by shrinking the ice caps.”
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