The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee has released a report titled “Protecting the Arctic” in which Members of Parliament call for a halt on oil drilling in the region until several concerns are addressed. The concerns include the need for a pan-Arctic oil spill response standard, stricter financial liability regimes for oil and gas operations that require companies to prove that they can meet the costs of cleaning up, and an internationally recognized environmental sanctuary established in at least part of the Arctic.

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While this all sounds good in principle, there is a problem—the UK has no power over the Arctic and at the moment, assorted global powers are racing to exploit the region’s vast oil and gas reserves.

While the British government only has observer status on the Arctic Council, they want to use the country’s influence to improve environmental safeguards in a region where they is no overall accountability.

In a statement, Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said: “The oil companies should come clean and admit that dealing with an oil spill in the icy extremes of the Arctic would be exceptionally difficult. The infrastructure to mount a big clean-up operation is simply not in place and conventional oil spill response techniques have not been proven to work in such severe conditions.”

“Drilling is only currently feasible in the Arctic during a short summer window when it is relatively ice-free. We heard compelling evidence that if a blow-out occurred just before the dark Arctic winter returned it may not be possible to cap it until the following summer – potentially leaving oil spewing out under the ice for six months or more with devastating consequences for wildlife

The MP’s report also warned of a collapse in summer Arctic sea-ice which would increase methane emissions from thawing permafrost, speed up the melting of the Greenland ice-sheet and make changes to the thermo-haline circulation. All of this could all have disastrous consequences for the world – pushing up sea levels and transforming weather patterns.

Joan Walley added: “The shocking speed at which the Arctic sea ice is melting should be a wake-up call to the world that we need to phase out fossil fuels fast. Instead we are witnessing a reckless gold rush in this pristine wilderness as big companies and governments make a grab for the world’s last untapped oil and gas reserves.”

+ Environmental Audit Committee

via BBC News

Images: kenhodge13 and NASA Goddard Photo and Video