Oil spill cooperation plans drafted by arctic nations are vague according to environmentalists

Oil spill cooperation plans 'vague' say Greenpeace

Arctic nations have compiled a document outlining cooperation on oil spills, but environmentalists say it is vague.

Arctic nations have compiled a document outlining cooperation on oil spills, but environmentalists say it is vague.

The 21-page document by the eight-nation Arctic Council, due to be approved in May, says countries in the region "shall maintain a national system for responding promptly and effectively to oil pollution incidents."

But environmental groups have said it fails to define corporate liability and it does not say what it will mean in terms of staff, ships, clean-up equipment in a remote region that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates has 13 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and 30 per cent of its undiscovered gas.

Ruth Davis of Greenpeace said: "The document doesn't get to grips with the risks of a spill in a meaningful way."

The report was leaked by Greenpeace just over a month after Shell's Kulluk oil rig ran aground in Alaska on Dec. 31 in near hurricane conditions and Greenpeace, which wants the Arctic to be off-limits to drilling, said it was "so vaguely written as to have very little practical value in increasing the level of preparedness."

The Arctic Council – comprised of the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark including Greenland – sees cooperation as big progress for the region, where sea ice shrank to a record low in the summer of 2012, opening the area to further exploration.

"There will be a lot of improvements compared to today - quite simply by making it much easier for countries in the Arctic to help each other when needed," said Karsten Klepsvik, polar expert at Norway's foreign ministry until end-2012.

The document sets up 24-hour emergency contacts in the eight nations, seeks national rules to allow quick transport of clean-up equipment across maritime borders, better monitoring, joint training exercises and it also says it will apply a general principle that the polluter pays, but does not define corporate liability.

"Greenland suggested that we should include a system of liability in the agreement. There was no agreement on this," Klepsvik said. "We are a consensus body. We realised that it would take years and years to reach a conclusion on liability.”

But Greenpeace is sceptical about whether any of the players involved even have the capability to respond to an Arctic spill.

A statement on their website states: “No oil company has ever proven it can clean up an oil spill in ice and this agreement offers nothing to change that. The document is a bit like the UN Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty simply saying, ‘please have a national plan to not detonate atom bombs’.

Environment ministers from the Arctic Council will meet in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, on tomorrow and Wednesdat to discuss the draft, but the document makes it clear it is non-binding, except for repayment of costs when one country helps another. It says it is "subject to the capabilities of the parties and the availability of relevant resources."

Separately, Norwegian shipping and energy classification group DNV urged common regulations for the Arctic and said current oil spill technologies were inadequate.

Per Olav Moslet, DNV's top Arctic technology expert, said: "Present oil spill response technology right now can't effectively collect oil in ice-covered waters and it remains difficult even to detect a spill on water in permanent darkness and bad weather."

Oil spills could be extremely hard to clean up in the Arctic especially if it becomes trapped in or under ice that can be carried across international boundaries by ocean currents and winds.

In 2011, Arctic Council foreign ministers including outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed a plan for search and rescue – a prelude to harder work on defining rules for oil and gas.

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