Increased traffic through Arctic waters is prompting the coast guard to help northern communities to respond oil spills.
And as interest grows in energy development off northern coastlines, Canadian scientists are planning their first field tests of a new technique they hope will give them a powerful tool against future accidents.
“We really do need to conduct experimental field trials with controlled oil spills in the Arctic,” said Ken Lee, director of offshore oil and gas research at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, N.S.
“I’m now interested in putting together an experimental field trial in the Arctic.”
Over the last few years, energy giants have spent billions to acquire rights to explore for oil and gas in the seabed off the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska. More spending is likely after U.S. president Barack Obama announced his government would lift the moratorium on drilling in parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
Many feel a major oil spill is inevitable. The U.S. Minerals Management Service has calculated a better than one-in-five chance of a major spill occurring over the lifetime of energy activity in just one block of leases off Alaska.
As well, shipping experts anticipate increased traffic through the Northwest Passage, which will also increase the risk of oil spills in Arctic waters.
“Just from the prospect of increased traffic, the risk increases,” said Garry Linsey, director of maritime services for the coast guard’s Arctic region.
“We feel the highest risk is at the oil landing facilities.”