Birdwatch News Archive
This aerial shot of the Bering Strait was taken in August, when most of the sea ice has withdrawn to its least extent. The Arctic has lost more than a quarter of its ice coverage in the last 40 years. Image: NASA (commons.wikimedia.org).
Safeguards needed as Arctic ice retreats further
Posted on: 24 Sep 2012
As the Arctic sea ice limit reaches a record low, a cross-party committee of MPs has called for a halt on oil and gas drilling there.
The MPs say that fuel exploration in the Arctic needs to be halted until stronger safeguards are put in place, and have issued a report that coincides with the unprecedented low for Arctic sea ice extent, recently announced by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). Their figures show that sea ice levels are nearly half of what existed in the Arctic 30 years ago when satellite records began.
Each year the Arctic sea ice reaches its annual minimum before it starts to refreeze and reform ahead of winter. But climate models now predict that, largely due to climate change, the Arctic could be virtually free of summer sea ice within a generation.
The current calls to halt Arctic oil and gas drilling could not have come at a more crucial time for the region. This week, oil multinational Shell announced that a critical part of its so-called Arctic containment system had been damaged during testing.
Shell's plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, this year have been dogged by problems. It recently suspended drilling a day after it began due to sea ice drifting in, and this latest incident raises concerns for the next stage of exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea. Shell had planned to demonstrate it can safely drill for oil in the Arctic offshore, and has demonstrated quite the reverse.
Rod Downie, polar expert at World Wide Fund For Nature UK (WWF-UK) said: “This is further evidence that Shell’s pursuit of hydrocarbons in the Arctic is reckless. It is completely irresponsible to drill for oil in such a fragile environment; there are simply too many unmanageable risks. Neither Shell nor any other oil company has demonstrated that it has the technology or techniques to effectively contain and clear up a spill in the extreme Arctic environment,”
The Committee has also recognised WWF-UK’s call for a clear UK Arctic strategy. Such a strategy would set out the country's role in the region and reconcile the lack of strategic thinking and policy coherence across Whitehall, where on the one hand the government acknowledges the need to cut emissions, but continues to look to Arctic oil and gas for energy security on the other.
“Clearly the two are incompatible” said Downie. “The Arctic is facing rapid meltdown, and with this report we’ve seen politicians from all sides working together to consult scientists, stakeholders and civil society. Now the government, and other governments and industries across the world, need to heed the warning signs from the Arctic and act with urgency and ambition to tackle climate change.”
With the speed of change we are witnessing in the Arctic, the charity is calling on the UK government to show national and global leadership in the urgent transition away from fossil fuels to a low carbon economy.
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