Arctic oil spill could take 'year or more' to clean up

| 24th September 2010
A ship breaking through Arctic ice

Greenpeace say sustainable oil and gas extraction is not possible in the Arctic Ocean

Russia and the US are leading the scramble for oil and gas in the Arctic, but Gulf of Mexico pollution highlights danger of oil spills say campaigners

The rush to exploit oil and gas resources in the Arctic needs to take account of the higher environmental risk of an oil spill, campaigners have warned.

Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the US are all expected to claim their right to Arctic territory in discussions being held in Moscow this week and, as the arctic ice cap melts due to climate change, the area is becoming more and more accessible for oil and gas exploration and shipping routes to market.

However, campaigners warn there are big risks to industrial activity in the Arctic and that the idea that we could clear up a spill in such a remote and hostile environment was ‘pure fantasy’.

‘The Arctic is a much more hostile environment that the Gulf...a clear up operation could take up to a year or longer’, said Greenpeace senior climate advisor Charlie Kronick.

Clive Tesar, Head of Communications for WWF’s Global Arctic Programme says there was no proven effective method of clearing up oil in ice covered waters.

‘In the Gulf they had the best technology, boats at their disposal, reasonably good weather…now imagine 100 miles of coastline, no boats at your disposal, no helicopters and no fuel to run them, and then there’s ice on the water and it’s fifty below.’

Use of nuclear power

He urged governments to look seriously at other options before drilling for oil in the region.

It is reported that counties are also considering using nuclear power in the Arctic. Kronick states this is a ‘nightmare scenario’. He explained plans to exploit hydrocarbons like oil and gas with the help of nuclear power in the world’s last pristine environment were ‘literally mad’ and that we need to ‘declare the Arctic off limits’.

WWF have also questioned the claims that as much as a quarter of the world's resources of oil and gas could lie beneath the Arctic Ocean. They say this is simply a ‘best guess’ and there is no proof. ‘I’ve seen other suggestions that there’s no where near that amount’ says Tesar.

Kronick also says the economic benefit of drilling for oil in the Arctic is also 'debatable' with extraction costs of around $100 per barrel.

Useful links
WWF: Oil spill response challenges in Arctic waters

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