On the eve of the Arctic Council environment minister’s meeting, a leaked copy of the Council’s much-heralded oil spill response agreement reveals deeply inadequate measures and a lack of effective penalties after nearly two years of development.
The document, entitled Co-operation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, is set to be adopted by foreign ministers at the main Arctic nations meeting in May.
(The full version of the document can be found at act.gp/W7vvWm)
A draft obtained by Greenpeace contains vague language asking countries to take ‘appropriate steps’ to deal with a spill, but without specifying a minimum level for what those might be; and contains a series of major omissions including any discussion of oil company liabilities or effective arrangements in case of a transboundary incident.
Ben Ayliffe, head of the Arctic Oil campaign for Greenpeace International, said: “This draft agreement does not inspire confidence in the ability of the Arctic Council to protect this fragile region when the worst happens. It’s incredibly vague, it fails to hold oil companies liable for the impact of their mistakes, and there is nothing here that ensures adequate capacity to deal with a spill in these nations.
“Serious questions remain about the role that oil companies played in drafting this agreement, and whether the Arctic Council is prepared to police this pristine natural environment effectively. The eyes of the world are watching but currently the Arctic Council is not standing up to scrutiny.”
The agreement asks so little of Canada, Denmark, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US, that it is effectively useless, Ayliffe said.
Despite promises that this would be the first legally-binding agreement of its kind, it fails to outline any essential response equipment, methods for capping wells, or cleaning up oiled habitat and wildlife, relying instead on vague statements that Arctic nations should “ensure” they try and take “appropriate steps within available resources.” “No oil company has ever proven it can clean up an oil spill in ice. The agreement offers nothing whatsoever in terms of identifying how a company would stop and clean up a Deepwater Horizon-style disaster,” Ayliffe continued. “Instead, this document is akin to the UN Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty simply saying, ‘If it’s not too much trouble, please have a national plan to not detonate atomic bombs’.” “The Arctic Council fails to set out a minimum set of technical capabilities that nations need to have in place before drilling. Given that many Arctic drilling areas are exceptionally remote, there is no guarantee that resources would be either available or adequate.”