About this report:
This report examines the gap that exists between the growing threat of a major oil spill in the Arctic and the capacity that exists to respond to it. Its key conclusion is twofold:
- Mounting an effective response to a major oil spill in the Arctic is presently not possible due to enormous environmental challenges, a lack of capacity and the severe limitations of current response methods in ice-covered waters.
- Due to the Arctic’s remoteness and extreme weather, there is also a high percentage of time when no response, however ineffective, could even be attempted. This is what is now known, in published literature, as “the response gap.” While response gaps exist for many areas where oil and gas extraction takes place, nowhere is the gap as large as it is in the Arctic.
From a rich profusion of phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain to polar bears at the top of it, the Arctic is home to a vast assembly of species that could be gravely impacted by an oil spill. Oil trapped in fall ice would be released in spring melt, posing a long-term threat to wildlife. More important, the Arctic is the world’s thermostat, helping to keep global temperatures in check. At a time when our climate is changing, the importance of protecting the stability of the Arctic ecosystem cannot be overstated.
We cannot afford the risk of a Deepwater Horizon disaster occurring in the Arctic. Until such time as we understand the Arctic response gap, and have the means and measures in place to close it, drilling for oil in the Arctic is a risk that is far too high to take.