Canadian Arctic Vulnerable to Oil Spill

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A U.S. environmental group, led by Pew Charitable Trust’s U.S. Arctic program director Marilyn Heiman, is calling for a halt of oil and gas leasing, exploration and development activities in the Arctic Ocean – citing that an accidental oil spill would be almost impossible to clean up.

Their study found that current oil spill response plans fall short of giving realistic descriptions of the actual harshness of the climate and remoteness of the Arctic, as well as indicating unrealistic expectations for a successful cleanup.

Contemporary planning suggests that up to 90 percent of oil can be recovered, despite the recent BP oil spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico – a much less restrictive and isolated environment – where only 20 percent of oil was cleaned.

Heiman says a spill in the Arctic would have to deal with with glaciers, subzero conditions, and winter storms, making it virtually impossible for cleanup operations to take place. The scarcity of roads and the remoteness of ports and U.S. Coast Guard ships and airfields would make those efforts even more problematic.

Supporting Heiman’s opinion, Oceans North Canada team member Trevor Taylor agreed that things could have been much worse if the BP oil spill occurred in the Arctic, citing BP’s much criticized response to the incident. Taylor says it would be extremely hard to deploy cleanup teams in the harsh Arctic conditions where containment booms would be shredded to pieces by the ice-filled waters.

Heiman recommends further studies be conducted on Arctic oil spills, such as detailed and realistic planning for worst-case scenarios, laying out predictions of where oil would disperse given the presence of strong Arctic currents, and developing additional up to date Arctic oil spill data.

The organization hopes that the U.S. and Canada governments take legislative steps to protect and conserve the coastal waters of the Arctic. To that end, the Canadian National Energy Board began reviewing offshore drilling laws after the BP incident.

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Photo by Wili_Hybrid

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