MPs seek Arctic drilling moratorium

European Parliamentarians fear an environmental catastrophe if something goes very wrong when Big oil moves in to the Arctic. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Europeans fear that a major blow-out in the Arctic now could be disastrous due to difficulties in cleaning up any spill in the dark winter season coming. Parliament Members in London and Brussels call for halting oil and gas drilling.


Both the Environmental Committee of the European Parliament and the Environmental Audit Committee of Britain’s House of Commons urge a halt in oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

The vote in Brussels and the report from London come as both Norway and Russia have drilling rigs in action on the continental shelf far north of the Arctic Circle.

Norway is this autumn drilling several fields in the western part of the Barents Sea while Russia still tries to get started at the Prirazlomnoye field in the eastern part of the Barents Sea. Both Norway and Russia are doing extensive seismic mapping in their Arctic waters, Norway as far north as in the waters east of Svalbard.

The British PMs are naming Arctic oil drilling “reckless” until stronger safety measures are put in place. Their report, published on Thursday and named “Protecting the Arctic” calls for a stricter financial liability region for oil and gas operations is introduced that requires companies to prove that they can meet the costs of cleaning up.

The report also calls on an internationally recognized environmental sanctuary to be established in at least part of the Arctic.

Can’t handle big oil spill
Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley, says infrastructure to mount a big clean-up operation is simply not in place and conventional oil spill response techniques have not been proven to work in such severe conditions.

“We heard compelling evidence that if a blow-out occurred just before the dark Arctic winter returned it may not be possible to cap it until the following summer - potentially leaving oil spewing out under the ice for six months or more with devastating consequences for wildlife,” Joan Walley says.

The PM also link Arctic oil drilling to the rapid sea ice melting.

“The shocking speed at which the Arctic sea ice is melting should be a wake-up call to the world that we need to phase out fossil fuels fast. Instead we are witnessing a reckless gold rush in this pristine wilderness as big companies and governments make a grab for the world’s last untapped oil and gas reserves,” Chair of the Committee says.

European Parliament
In Brussels, the Environmental Committee in the European Parliament made a vote on Wednesday in favor of introducing a moratorium on Arctic oil drilling. The vote follows a suggestion from the Commission after the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 to make stricter European rules on offshore drilling.

The recommendations from the Environmental Committee approved yesterday will likely be up for plenum and vote in the European Parliament just before Christmas.

Multiple businesses risk
In April, BarentsObserver reported on a Lloyd’s report outlining the multiple risks facing businesses operating or moving into the Arctic
including operational, geo-political, regulatory and reputational risks.

“If something goes wrong in the north it will impact not just one company - but an entire industry. If development is to happen sustainably, all companies have to do this right, and demonstrating this day in and day out,” co-author of the report Charles Emmerson told BarentsObserver.