Arctic Ocean Oil Spill Guidelines Not Good Enough, According To Greenpeace
February 5, 2013

Arctic Ocean Oil Spill Guidelines Not Good Enough, According To Greenpeace

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A 21-page document aiming to help with oil spill plans in the Arctic Ocean is apparently not good enough, according to environmentalists, who add the guidelines are vague and do not define corporate liability over such accidents.

A Greenpeace representative told redOrbit there are a number of improvements to the document, due to be approved in May by the Arctic Council, that could be done.

"We believe that the risks of being in the Arctic searching for more of the oil that is causing the ice to melt in the first place means that drilling shouldn´t happen at all," Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace told redOrbit.

"But given the huge technical challenges of operating and responding to an accident in the Arctic and the risk of significant transboundary impacts resulting from a spill, there are a number of improvements the Arctic Council could make, such as development of a strong, well-coordinated international response system using state-of-the-art equipment and standardized operational protocols."

Currently, he said, the Arctic Council is failing at providing any of these things. However, he added the single most effective thing the Council could do is to stop relying on the oil industry for advice.

"They helped draft this agreement from an early stage, but why you´d want a company like Shell, responsible as they are for the most recklessly inept Arctic drilling operations in Alaska last summer, involved in writing an oil spill response agreement is anyone´s guess," Alyiffe told redOrbit.

The Arctic Council, which includes the U.S., Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark, will be meeting late this spring to try and establish these guidelines. The eight-nation council is meeting at a time when sea-ice melting reached a record high last year.

The document in question includes a 24-hour emergency contact sheet, as well as rules to allow quick transport of clean-up equipment. It also says it will apply a general principal that the polluter pays for the responsibility of the oil spill.

“The big glaring hole is that it is such a vaguely worded document that it doesn´t seem to force countries into doing anything,” Ayliffe told BBC News.

Although the document is being met with high criticism from environmentalists, Sweden´s ambassador reached out to the British news agency, rejecting Greenpeace´s claims.

“The agreement is a great step forward for the protection of the Arctic from an oil spill because it sets up a system for the states to co-operate in practice,” Gustaf Lind told the BBC. “I think Greenpeace misses the target because they criticize the agreement for not regulating oil companies, that is not the purpose of it at all.”

However, Greenpeace´s Ayliffe says the idea of an oil spill in the Arctic would prove to be a “nightmare scenario,” with oil leaking out miles underneath ice.

He suggested to redOrbit the simplest thing for people to do, who wish to be effective in helping out, is to sign up, and join Greenpeace's global campaign to protect the Arctic at

"This site has everything you could ever need to get involved and take positive action to help create a global sanctuary at the top of the world and keep the oil industry out of this unique and fragile environment," Ayliffe told redOrbit.

The document is stemming from a 2011 agreement by the Arctic Council, during which they signed the Nuuk Declaration to develop an international agreement on how to respond to oil pollution.

The upcoming meeting will be taking place after the 24th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, which spilled between 260,000 and 750,000 barrels of oil into the ocean. At the time, it was considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters in history.

However, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 outshone the Valdez spill, with about 4.9 million barrels of oil spewing out into the Gulf of Mexico.