By Kate McPherson, KTVA Alaska, March 23, 2012
Representatives from eight Arctic nations met in Girdwood to work on spill response plan
GIRDWOOD - Representatives from the eight countries of the Arctic Council met in Girdwood for three days this week to work on an oil spill response plan.
The U.S. co-chairman and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries, Ambassador David Balton, says, as a group, Arctic nations are not as prepared as they should be to respond to a spill.
“The large likelihood is major spills will occur within areas under the jurisdiction of one country or another, but there could also be spills that span a border between countries," said Balton.
Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States are discussing the details of an agreement – including whether it will be legally binding.
Having an international agreement on how to jointly respond to an oil spill in the Arctic is becoming all the more important with increased shipping, especially through the Bering Strait.
But it’s not just a spill from a vessel that countries are planning for.
"[It’s] oil spills from any source that could affect the marine environment,” said Balton.
“So shipping and drilling certainly will be covered. If there is a spill from a pipeline on land that is heading towards the ocean that would be covered too."
The agreement will also cover oil-holding facilities.
Lessons learned from the BP oil disaster of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico are being addressed.
“One of the challenges we faced in that spill was the ability to bring in equipment from other nations,” said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Cari Thomas.
The U.S. delegation says it’s learning from other nations about how to better prepare for a spill.
“Norway and Russia are probably further along than the United States in dealing with prospects of serious oil spills in the north,” said Ambassador Balton.
Alaska’s’ Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell says he hopes joint exercises with the Arctic nations will expose the gaps and deficiencies the U.S. has in its ability to respond to an oil spill.
“In terms of getting the tug equipment there [to a spill in the Arctic] or in the Aleutians, we are naked in the north.”