Arctic Context

Recent years had seen increasing interest in offshore oil exploration in the Arctic and other frontier regions. Offshore petroleum exploration, development and transport in the Arctic expanded to include Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States.

However, it is important to recognize that Arctic oil exploration began over one hundred years ago with the discovery of oil deposits on the West shore of Cook Inlet, Alaska, in 1900 and at Norman Wells in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1911. True offshore Arctic exploration drilling began in the Cook Inlet, Alaska in the late 1950s and in the Canadian Arctic Islands in the early 1970s. These and subsequent exploration activities led to the completion of over 440 Arctic wells over a 60-year period. Significant oil and gas production has occurred and is ongoing in Arctic and other ice-covered waters around the globe, for example: Cook Inlet and Beaufort Sea, Alaska; Sea of Okhotsk (north east coast of Sakhalin Island), and Pechora Sea, Russia; northern Bohai Gulf, China; and the north Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan. In addition, regular winter shipping occurs in many areas with bulk cargo carriers, containerships, tankers and ore carriers: for example, serving mines in Northern Quebec, Canada and the Kola Peninsula, Russia, and offshore oil installations and loading terminals in the Russian Arctic and Sakhalin Island, Russia.

All of these operations, whether they be oil and gas facilities or vessels, are mandated by national and international laws to have approved oil spill response plans covering all operating conditions including the winter period. There are decades of experience with deploying spill response equipment in ice through drills and actual incidents. Given the high frequency of traffic and cargo volumes, much of the practical experience in dealing with spills in a variety of ice conditions was gained in the Baltic region; over 150 million tonnes of crude oil and oil products are transported and handled in the Gulf of Finland on an annual basis.