UK Seeks to Water Down Arctic Oil Drilling Proposals
From The Guardian
By Fiona Harvey
In leaked EU documents seen by the Guardian, the UK has sought to change proposals that could prevent oil and gas drilling operations that would leave fragile areas vulnerable. The UK is insisting that this clause be removed, because “oil spills may be effectively dispersed by wind and wave action and this is in itself one form of effective response”.
This has outraged green campaigners, who are concerned that the “Arctic oil rush” several companies are engaged on could lead to irreparable damage to one of the Earth’s last pristine wildernesses.
Ministers have also ruled out any moratorium on oil drilling in the Arctic, despite calls for such a move by an influential committee of MPs, and despite the grounding of Shell’s Kulluk drilling rig off Alaska on the last day of 2012. That incident, though it did not result in a dangerous oil spill, heightened safety fears over offshore drilling in far northern seas, where any response to a serious spill would be difficult or even impossible.
That difficulty creates an “oil spill response gap”, in which spills could have to be left for weeks or months if adverse weather conditions make it impossible to clean them up using mechanical or chemical means, such as those deployed in BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill. That would increase the potential for damage to vulnerable areas such as Greenland and the Arctic.
Several EU member states wanted this “response gap” to be recognised, so that it would have to be taken into account in any decision on whether to allow a drilling site to go ahead. If the “response gap” was too great, companies could be prevented from drilling. These regulations would also apply to countries such as Norway, which may have large potential for Arctic drilling. But the UK has insisted this language be removed in the Brussels negotiations.
Instead, the government appeared to suggest that leaving oil spills in deep Arctic oceans could be an adequate response.
Answering the call by the environmental audit committee for tighter regulation of Arctic and similarly dangerous oil drilling, the government told MPs: “[We are] acutely aware of the potential environmental impacts of an oil spill in the Arctic and recognises the risks of drilling for hydrocarbons. We therefore fully support the use of the highest environmental and drilling standards in the Arctic.”
Ben Stewart of Greenpeace said: “The British government has been caught talking out of both sides of its mouth. It tells parliament it’s committed to the highest safety standards for the oil industry, but in Brussels it’s working to gut regulations designed to prevent a Deepwater Horizon disaster off our own coast. Our ministers might consider, just for once, not acting as the lobbying arm of Shell.”
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