Warning of 'risky' Arctic drilling
The UK Government has been accused of "complacently standing by" while oil and gas drilling starts in the Arctic despite the risks to the environment and climate.
Companies such as Shell are not yet able to demonstrate they could clean up an oil spill in the harsh but pristine conditions of the Arctic, according to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).
And a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that only a third of already proven fossil fuels can be burnt before 2050 if global temperatures are to be kept from rising by more than 2C, widely regarded as the threshold for "dangerous" climate change.
As a result, exploring for new reserves in the Arctic is "needlessly risky", the MPs argued. And they accused ministers of failing to provide a coherent argument to support its view that exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic was compatible with avoiding dangerous climate change.
The report scrutinising the Government's Arctic policy follows an EAC report published last September which called for a halt to drilling in the Arctic until there were stronger protections against oil spills. The latest report from the committee points to problems Shell has encountered in the Arctic in the past year, particularly the grounding of its Kulluk rig in December and the questions raised by US regulators as a result.
The US Department of the Interior has said that Shell entered the 2012 drilling season "not fully prepared" in terms of developing and testing critical systems, and had serious deficiencies in management of contractors, oversight and execution of operations in the Arctic.
Shell's problems, which led to it pausing its 2013 drilling plans, reinforced the need for a moratorium and the introduction of much higher - preferably unlimited - financial liability to cover any drilling that takes place in the future, the committee said. The MPs also reiterated their call for a sanctuary to be established in the Arctic, which is protected from oil and gas development.
EAC chairwoman Joan Walley said: "What happens in the Arctic will affect the UK, impacting our weather systems and biodiversity. Yet this Government is complacently standing by and watching new oil and gas drilling in the region, even though companies like Shell cannot prove they could clean up an oil spill in such harsh conditions."
A Government spokesman said: "We disagree with the committee's call for a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling. We are very aware of the possible environmental impact of an oil spill in the Arctic and support the use of the highest drilling standards. However, the UK is not an Arctic State and it is not for us to tell other countries which resources they can and cannot extract from their own sovereign territory.
"We also believe that our approach to oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is consistent with our commitment to limit average global temperature increase to two degrees. The UK does have strong environmental, economic, scientific and political interests in the Arctic and this summer we will be publishing an Arctic Policy Framework for the first time."