The Arctic is set to play and vital role in meeting the world’s energy supply over the next several decades. That’s why it is one of our top advocacy focus areas.
For decades, our industry has been researching all aspects of oil spill preparedness, oil spill behaviour and options for oil spill response in the Arctic marine environment.
This has resulted in oil spill prevention and response programmes that take account of global practice, years of preparation, as well as lessons from research and incidents. This includes hundreds of studies, laboratory and basin experiments and field trials, principally in the United States, Canada and Norway.
And the technologies continue to be developed, by individual companies and through joint industry projects that improve our ability to respond effectively to spills.
Focused on the prevention of incidents
The primary focus has been on preventing incidents, including oil spills. Despite these efforts, the risk of an oil spill is always present. Any operation must include a plan for halting the release of hydrocarbons and reducing any spill and its environmental impact to an absolute minimum.
Equally important is the speedy recovery of any damaged ecosystem.
Oil spill response is demanding under any circumstances, but Arctic conditions impose additional environmental and logistical challenges:
To address such risks, operators include robust assessment and management systems that are sufficiently flexible to provide a response appropriate to:
Arctic conditions also have advantages
Research has also shown that Arctic conditions can work to our advantage in effective response. For example:
Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology, one of the largest industry projects dedicated to this field of research and development, is currently conducting research on a major scale. It is sponsored by ten international oil and gas companies: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, eni, ExxonMobil, Gazprom Neft, North Caspian Operating Company, Shell, Statoil, and Total.
The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that during this century, the Arctic is likely to warm. As a result, Arctic sea ice may continue to decrease in both extent and thickness. Other changes could include the thawing of permafrost and increased coastal erosion. In addition to these physical changes, Arctic ecosystems are also adapting. These physical and ecological changes have also led to changes in human behaviour.
Understanding this ‘moving baseline’ presents additional challenges for oil and gas operators to ensure their facilities are safe and environmentally protective. Which changes are cited as reasons to use utmost care in considering the rate and scope of economic development within the Arctic.
However, climate change is a global issue and any specific impact on the Arctic region is more likely to be determined by global emissions of greenhouse gases rather than Arctic development alone.
In order to find solutions that address the risks of climate change our industry is investing in ways to:
As part of determining the risk of operations on the environment, our industry assesses the potential effects of sounds generated by its operations.
Marine life studies help identify any significant environmental risks which are then addressed through mitigation strategies.
When operating in the Arctic, and other areas of environmental sensitivity, this work is increasingly important and to progress its understanding a group of our members is funding research via a multi-year joint industry programme.
With its temperature and climatic extremes, environmental sensitivities, dynamic ice conditions and frozen ground and permafrost, the Arctic presents a challenging operating environment for any development. To better protect the integrity of facilities, the safety of personnel and the protection of the environment, our industry is developing and using a range of cutting-edge technologies and operating standards.
With the world’s population expected to exceed 9 billion within 40 years, energy use is projected to double by 2050. Even as renewables and other alternatives become increasingly available, by 2030 oil and gas will still account for over half of global energy demand.
The World Energy Outlook for 2012 estimates that the Arctic could hold 14% and over 25% of the world’s yet-to-be discovered global oil and gas resources respectively. However, developing these resources will be difficult, due to the unique regional challenges.
Indigenous peoples, as the traditional inhabitants of the Arctic, are key stakeholders and are integral to any development assessment and strategy. Around 10% of the region’s four million inhabitants are indigenous people, many of them living in areas that have been inhabited for several thousand years.
Our industry aims to operate sustainably in the Arctic, working with its indigenous peoples to develop the region’s natural resources in a way that is compatible with the environment and their traditional way of life. This may include considering the timing and location of planned activities relative to biological activity (whale migration or fish spawning periods), traditional hunting activity and transportation routes across ice, to name a few.
To learn more, read our Arctic Factsheets.
IOGP Arctic Committee