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MPs urge halt to Arctic oil drilling

The Environmental Audit Committee today called for halt in oil drilling in the Arctic until a stricter safety regime is in place.

The committee’s report Protecting the Arctic said five conditions needed to be in place (see box) to safegaurd the environment before further drilling.

An oil spill could be “devastating” for wildlife if one occurred just before the Arctic winter closed in, preventing efforts to stop the leak until the following summer, warned committee chair Joan Walley.

“The oil companies should come clean and admit that dealing with an oil spill in the icy extremes of the Arctic would be exceptionally difficult,” she added.

“The infrastructure to mount a big clean-up operation is simply not in place and conventional oil spill response techniques have not been proven to work in such severe conditions.”

The report also looked at the effect that climate change was having on the Arctic. It warned that a collapse in summer Arctic sea-ice, increased methane emissions from thawing permafrost, and melting of the Greenland ice-sheet could all have disastrous consequences for the world - pushing up sea levels and transforming weather patterns.

Proposed conditions for oil drilling in the Arctic

  • A pan-Arctic oil spill response standard

  • A stricter financial liability regime for oil and gas operations requiring companies to prove that they can meet the costs of cleaning up

  • An oil and gas industry group set up to peer-review companies’ spill response plans and operating practices

  • Further independent research and testing on oil spill response techniques in Arctic conditions, including an assessment of their environmental side-effects

  • An internationally recognised environmental sanctuary established in at least part of the Arctic


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