Pan European Networks: Science & Technology – Oil in Ice… The environmental impact of oil spills and associated response technologies in the pack ice of the Arctic

Pan European Networks: Science & Technology – December 2014 – Issue 13

With a changing climate causing a decline in summer sea ice, along with the rapid advances in technological development, the Arctic Ocean is becoming the forefront of new exploration. It is estimated that the Arctic could have potentially 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 20% of the gas reserves. This estimation, along with the opening up of the Arctic Ocean, has meant that the region has been receiving great interest from the petroleum industry. While these reserves are welcome in terms of benefitting the Arctic states’ economies – and also covering the increasing demand for energy – there is concern in some quarters. The expansion of oil and gas exploration in these vast, uninhabited areas may increase the risk of spills of crude oil that could impact Arctic wildlife. There is a suite of response technologies which exist to mitigate the impact. However, some uncertainties remain regarding the impact of any oil spill and associated response technologies, such as chemical dispersants or in situ burning in the Arctic, and the resilience of species to recover from these potential impacts. Furthermore, there is a need to develop conceptual tools that will help stakeholders take the most appropriate decisions to mitigate an oil spill.