Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

MPs call for Arctic drilling halt

MPs have urged a halt to Arctic drilling until stronger protection against oil spills are in place

Drilling for oil in the Arctic should be stopped until there are stronger protections against spills which could devastate the environment, MPs said.

An internationally recognised nature sanctuary should also be established to protect at least part of the Arctic before any more exploration takes place, the Environmental Audit Committee said.

Clearing up a spill in the icy waters of the Arctic would be extremely difficult, with the methods for responding to an accident not conclusively proved to work in the extreme conditions.

An oil spill could be "devastating" for wildlife if a blow-out occurred just before the Arctic winter closed in, preventing efforts to stop the leak until the following summer, the committee's chairwoman Joan Walley said.

A report from the committee on the Arctic comes as data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre shows ice cover has melted to a record low this summer, with sea ice extending to just over half the minimum area covered on average over past decades.

The MPs said the general view that the Arctic is not at risk of a collapse in the ice cap in summer in the next few years needs to be reviewed and collapse of the ice cap would lead to further warming of the Arctic, be disastrous for wildlife and could damage regional and global climate.

Their report accused the Government of a lack of coherence in not addressing how future oil and gas extracted from the Arctic could be reconciled with keeping temperature rises to no more than 2C, and it urged ministers to resolve the issue.

Given the heightened risks of drilling in the Arctic - which is already taking place - because of the extreme conditions, the MPs are calling for a moratorium on oil exploration until steps are taken to tighten up the safeguards.

These include putting in a pan-Arctic standard for the response to an oil spill and stricter financial liability rules requiring companies to prove they can meet the costs of a cleaning up a disaster, an oil and gas industry group to peer-review companies' oil spill plans and report publicly on them, and more independent research and testing on techniques, with environmental side-effects tested.

The MPs urge the UK Government to use its position as an observer state on the Arctic Council, a key means of co-operation between the eight Arctic state and observer countries, to push for a moratorium until safeguards are in place, and want new fisheries managed sustainably and environmental standards put in place for shipping routes opening up as the Arctic melts.

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