This article was published in the journal Marine Policy for the January 2017 volume. It consists of a study conducted by the School for Resource and Environmental Studies (Dalhousie University) based in Halifax, NS, Canada. The study presents the current regulation frameworks, both at national and international levels, that aim at preventing environmental risks associated to offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, as well as the emergency preparedness and the pollution abatement technology available in case of oil spills. It highlights the significant disparities in terms of regulations between the Arctic states and the major obstacles that persist in the consolidation of a broader pan-Arctic governance regime to control offshore drilling in Arctic waters. First, the authors traced back the notable oil and gas exploration, discovery or exploitation activities of five Arctic nations (Canada, U.S. Russia, Norway and Denmark) in the last 30 years, outlining the unequal level of progress achieved by each country. Then, they compared the existing national regulation frameworks between the Arctic sates in respect of their predictive management tools (environmental impact assessments and strategic impact assessments), their required abatement technology (same-season relief wells) and their emergency preparedness. Finally, they stressed the irreversible risks associated to a renewed attractiveness of offshore oil and gas in the Arctic and gave recommendations for a wider international regulatory system to foster the implementation of strict rules and safe practices in offshore drilling activities.
The first observation is that despite the huge investments in exploration and exploitation of offshore oil and gas resources, only two countries are producing commercial volumes: Russia and Norway. Offshore drilling activities in the Arctic have been recently put on hold in most of the countries due to low global energy prices, but could quickly resurge may these prices regain some impulse. This is why it is important to evaluate current national regulations in the five Arctic states and identify potential gaps to help formulate future policy recommendations. While Russia is severely criticized for its lack of oil spill prevention measures, Norway is often regarded as a model, requiring strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) to be completed before Arctic projects are being approved. Serious environmental concerns appeared following the Russian Federation Policy for the Arctic to 2020 that aims at increasing oil and gas development but does not provide for improvements in preventative measures for oil spills. The oil and gas development in the U.S. Arctic has been recently compromised by the new lease conditions imposed by the Obama Administration in 2015 and by the proposed regulations issued by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management to ensure a safe and responsible exploratory drilling for offshore Alaska. In Canada, potential oil and gas development projects must undergo specific environmental impact assessments (EIAs) overseen by the National Energy Board before being approved. Moreover, hydrocarbon development in the Canadian western and eastern Arctic is influenced by land settlement agreements signed with the Inuvialuit and Inuit communities, allowing them to participate in the decision-making process.
Sarah Gulas et al., “Declining Arctic Ocean oil and gas developments: Opportunities to improve governance and environmental pollution control”, Marine Policy, Vol. 75, January 2017, p. 53-61, available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X1630416X?np=y