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Arctic Oil Spill Report

“There is a lot of pressure by Shell to drill this summer,” Marilyn Heiman, director of the US Arctic programme at Pew said. “But the oil companies are just not prepared for the Arctic. The spill plans are thoroughly inadequate.”

U.S. Coast Guard Ice Breaker Healy in U.S. Arctic Waters

© USGS

Oil Spill Prevention and Response in the U.S. Arctic Ocean: Unexamined Risks, Unacceptable Consequences details major gaps in response planning and Arctic marine ecosystem science. Government and industry oil spill response plans fail to account for the region’s remoteness and harsh conditions and fail to protect the fragile Arctic marine ecosystems and food webs that support walrus, polar bears and other marine mammals found nowhere else in the United States.

Report

Oil Spill Prevention and Response in the U.S. Arctic Ocean: Unexamined Risks, Unacceptable Consequences

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About the Report Authors >

REPORT DETAILS

The purpose of this report is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the difficulties of drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. The report identifies several major challenges to responding to and cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic. These challenges include remoteness (almost no roads or docks, minimal response manpower), extreme conditions (shifting sea ice, fog, 20 foot seas, hurricane force winds) and the reality that standards are not in place to ensure that a catastrophic spill can be contained and controlled or that fragile Arctic shorelines will be protected.

  • The Arctic Ocean is a vital ecosystem for unique species found nowhere else in the US: polar bears, ice seal species, walrus, bowhead whales, and myriad fish and bird species. This ecosystem and its iconic species already are under strain from climate change. Even a moderate-sized spill that occurs in an area where sensitive or threatened species are concentrated could have devastating effects.
  • Approximately 8,000 people live in this area, and depend on marine mammals and fish for as much as 60 percent of their diet. A reduction in the availability or safety of subsistence foods could have a profound impact on both the economy and culture of Arctic communities.
  • Shifting sea ice, high seas, brutal winds and sub-zero temperatures could shut down spill response any time of the year. Even if drilling were limited to open-water season, a blowout that occurred late in the fall could continue for eight or nine months if a relief drill could not be completed before the ice pack moved in.

Policy Recommendations

Policy Recommendations:Oil Spill Prevention and Response in the Arctic Ocean

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Policy Recommendations Overview >

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS OVERVIEW

The Arctic Ocean presents unique challenges to oil and gas drilling that should not be underestimated. Before exploration and production drilling proceeds in Arctic waters, the Department of the Interior and other agencies must assure that there are requirements in place to control and contain a spill in Arctic marine conditions and to protect the fragile ocean and coastal ecosystems. The key issues that must be addressed include:

  1. the need for research and data collection to provide an understanding of Arctic species, ecosystems and environmental conditions, and the impacts of oil spills in that environment;
  2. the need for candid risk assessments and imposition of risk prevention measures;
  3. identification of the response gap (shortfalls in spill response systems) and spill prevention measures that must be in place to mitigate that response gap.
  4. enhanced and vigilant oversight by government agencies and citizens to reduce the possibility of oil spills.

Media Coverage: Arctic Oil Spill Report

“Almost everyone can agree that, however bad the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was, a major spill in an icy Arctic sea would be worse. How much worse? A new report commissioned by the Pew Environment Group tries to examine that question, and the answer is: Get ready for a cleanup that could take years.”

– LOS ANGELES TIMES

Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the U.S. incident commander for the BP oil spill, said the Pew report makes valid points about response limitations in the Arctic.

“Traditional oil-spill containment equipment used elsewhere could fail in the Arctic, said Allen, who reviewed the report. ‘You can’t boom an oil spill when the water’s frozen,’ he told Reuters in a telephone interview.”

– REUTERS

“There is a lot of pressure by Shell to drill this summer,” Marilyn Heiman, director of the US Arctic programme at Pew said. “But the oil companies are just not prepared for the Arctic. The spill plans are thoroughly inadequate.”

– THE GUARDIAN

SOURCE

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