There are many reasons why the Arctic Council is interesting, even though it is an organization whose decisions are based solely on the eight countries that have land areas north of the Arctic. When the Swedish Presidency ends with a meeting in Kiruna on Wednesday the organization will determine which new countries and organizations will receive observer status. The list of applicants is long, including both China and the EU, environmental organization such as Greenpeace and Oceana, as well as the oil industry, represented by the Association of Oil and Gas Producers, IOGP. At the Kiruna meeting, member countries will also agree on a contingency plan for oil spills in the Arctic.
Nine oil companies have created a research program to improve understanding of how to combat oil spills. With a budget of $21 million over four years (until 2015) the program examines the effect of oil-dissolving chemicals in the Arctic, developing new approaches to follow movement of an oil spill, especially under the ice, and testing how to burn oil and to develop new methods to mechanically recover the oil.
It is widely believed that an oil spill in the Arctic would have greater consequences than in warmer waters. According to Joseph Mullin, who leads the research, the situation is not only difficult in the Arctic. Joe suggests there are bacteria in Arctic waters that break down oil and ice acting as a barrier making it easier to collect the oil. Also, ice can make it difficult to get skimmers, which separate the oil from the water, to work, he says. However, the challenges with the cold, dark and large distances are greater than in warmer waters. This is why Greenpeace and other environmental organizations called for a moratorium on oil exploration in the Arctic.
- Maktlös organisation lockar törstande oljejättar (Full article, Swedish)