The Government has rejected calls from MPs to protect the Arctic from risky oil and gas drilling, despite renewed safety concerns following the grounding of a Shell rig in the region.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:
"A few years ago the Prime Minister rode with huskies in the Arctic to demonstrate his commitment on environmental issues, but now he is being asked to protect that pristine wilderness for real he has refused to take a lead on the issue.
The grounding of the Kulluk rig raises serious questions about the safety of Shell’s operations in the Arctic and we will be calling them back into Parliament to give further evidence."
The Environmental Audit Committee recommended in September 2012 that there should be an immediate moratorium on drilling in the Arctic until:
- research shows that spill response techniques will work in such extreme conditions;
- a pan-Arctic oil spill response plan is put in place;
- stricter financial liability rules for oil and gas operations are introduced;
- And an internationally recognised protected area is established in part of the Arctic
The Government has rejected the call for a moratorium on all Arctic drilling, saying that existing efforts to protect the Arctic environment are "more likely to be effective". The Government is working with other countries in the development of a new global mechanism to regulate conservation of marine biodiversity in the High Seas and it says that once such an agreement is reached, it will work with Arctic states to explore the scientific basis for a marine protected area in the region. However, the Government does not believe that putting in place such a sanctuary should be a pre-requisite for future development in the Arctic.
The Government disagrees with the Environmental Audit Committee that there is an inconsistency between exploiting new fossil fuel reserves and keeping global climate change to 2°C (widely regarded as a dangerous threshold) because it claims new oil sources will be needed to replace dwindling existing reserves. The Government nevertheless recognises that this is dependent upon oil and gas production being limited to a level permitted in a "2 degree world", but does not set out any plans to ensure that this is achieved.
The Government does not believe it has the necessary expertise of drilling in Arctic conditions in order to advise the Arctic states. The Government argues that setting the limits of financial liability for oil and gas operations is a matter for the countries in whose national jurisdictions the activities are taking place.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley MP, concluded:
"Last summmer's record Arctic sea ice melt should be seen as a wake-up call to Governments to work together to protect this region, not a starting gun on a race to exploit its resources.
The UK should take a lead in pushing for a protected area in the Arctic - one of the last undeveloped wilderness areas on Earth."