UK Committee Requests Halt of Arctic Oil and Gas Exploration

A UK Parliament committee recently said that the pursuit of oil and gas resources near the Arctic must stop until solid protections against oil spills are provided. The committee’s statement was made days after Shell’s postponement of its oil drilling project.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s report, consisting of UK parliament members, requested for the oil drilling activities to halt until a standard response for a future potential oil spill in the pan-Arctic region is set in place. It suggested a firmer oversight body be launched in order for companies to be financially accountable for any costs of cleaning up an oil spill, if one occurs.

Joan Walley, the committee’s chairwoman, said that there is a “reckless gold rush” in the Arctic’s unspoiled environment as huge firms and governments try to obtain the last untapped reserves of oil and gas in the world. The chairwoman further added that oil companies must admit and acknowledge the fact that handling an oil spill in the Arctic’s icy extremes would be extremely difficult. There is no infrastructure at the moment that can support a huge clean-up operation in case an oil spill occurs.  Moreover, she said that response strategies have not been effective and successful in those kinds of severe conditions.

A spokeswoman of the Foreign Commonwealth Office told Reuters that the report was accepted by the government and it was contemplating the findings.

Estimates show that the Arctic contains a significant amount of the world’s untapped reserves of oil and gas, amounting to about 13 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Investment from the gas, oil, shipping and mining sectors may reach at least $100 billion in the coming decade.

But, the commercial possibility of oil exploration in that kind of isolated environment is not known, and huge risks are present as companies face large costs following safety standards, creating technology, and obtaining insurance and transport.

Just recently, Shell made an announcement of its intention to stop its activities in the Arctic for this year. However, the company is still getting ready for next year’s oil exploration, and it will drill wells prior to the closing in of the ice.  BP has suspended its offshore oil exploration project in Alaska amounting to $1.5 billion for an indefinite period because of the cost and technical challenges. Meanwhile, Shtockman consortium halted its plan to explore a large gas field located in the Russian Barents Sea.

According to the committee, worries regarding climate change may also restrict any new oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. It asked for the establishment of an internationally recognized environmental sanctuary in some parts of the region.

It also blamed the government of the United Kingdom for not being able to present how gas and oil extraction in the Arctic could be aligned with its promise to control the rise of the world’s average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius in this century, a maximum limit that is widely seen as preventing the worse impact of climate change.

For the current month, the ice in the Arctic sea attained its lowest level since the beginning of satellite records and may be gone in the summertime of 2015 at the earliest, warned several scientists. Recently, experts said that pollution in the Arctic brought about by oil and gas industries may hasten the thawing of the ice.