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Task Force on Oil Pollution Prevention interviews: Part 2

At a recent meeting of the Arctic Council’s Task Force on Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention, several of the representatives from the Arctic states and from Permanent Participants offered some thoughts on why oil pollution prevention in the Arctic is important, and why the Arctic Council Task Force is a good way to tackle the challenge.

Read answers from Senior Arctic Officials Anton Vasiliev and Else Berit Eikeland (co-chairs of the Task Force), as well as from Canadian delegate Michel Chenier and Jim Gamble from the Aleut International Association.

“And why is this Arctic Council Task Force a good way to begin addressing the challenge of Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention?”

EIKELAND: This task force will build on work that has already been done by the Arctic Council; for example, the RP3 report from EPPR, and other relevant work from PAME. We will also look at the practices of the Arctic states. Each one has experience with prevention strategies when it comes to maritime transportation, and those states producing oil and gas have experience in terms of preventing spills during petroleum production. Collectively, we have a lot of experience within the Task Force, but it’s very fragmented. This makes it critical for this Task Force to have an action plan and to have a good framework illustrating the different prevention efforts of the different States.

It is important to note that the Task Force is working on prevention in two distinct areas – maritime transportation and petroleum. The legal framework in these two areas differs. For instance, maritime transportation is international, and it is regulated as such. In contrast, petroleum is very much nationally regulated. Perhaps, when it comes to petroleum, the Arctic states have an interest in learning about our separate efforts, and then learning how we can exchange information and data, arrange meetings between our regulators, and examine safety culture…all the different elements in the prevention strategy. And in the same way, with maritime transportation, it is ultimately the Arctic states that have the experience that is necessary for the eventual plan to draw on.

We must ask the Arctic states to propose prevention efforts, in an attempt to acquire as many ideas as possible. Then we can develop an overall picture of the different options, and build a common understanding of preferred prevention actions. You sometimes hear the questions: “What are the Arctic states doing?” or “What is the Arctic Council doing?” With this Task Force, the Arctic states can demonstrate that we are responsible, that we are managing these efforts, and that we are coordinating and cooperating within the Arctic Council. This way, we can tackle this challenge and meet international expectations.

VASILIEV: We are not starting from scratch in this area; a lot has been done already. There is technology to assure the safety of oil production in such severe conditions, but the problem is the price tag. Because of harsh weather and so many technological challenges, the most effective way to identify the best possible solutions is to find these solutions collectively. So I also feel that a part of clear technological, ecological and economic value of the negotiations ahead in this task force is a clear wish to strengthen cooperation among the Arctic states.

The Arctic Council has already done a lot here. For example, it has worked out the guidelines for offshore oil and gas. And quite recently we had a very interesting project done - mostly by Norway, but in cooperation with others - called BoHaSA (Behaviour of Oil and Other Hazardous Substances in Arctic Waters). And quite recently, we had a special designated project on this matter – the prevention of oil spills – done by SDWG. They started their project saying “we are so glad we do not have experience here yet”. And indeed, we hope we never do gain experience. Nevertheless, the group managed to work out some particular recommendations, and we shall build on that during these talks. So in a way, this will be an intellectual continuation of the process that has taken part for years, if not decades, in the Arctic Council. And so that will be a kind of pinnacle of all this kind of work, hopefully, if we manage to agree on something.

CHENIER: Certain countries are more advanced than others in this subject, while other countries have specific expertise that others do not have. This Task Force helps all of us to leverage one another’s experiences and expertise; that is very valuable. We need to recognize that the Arctic is a very large area, and one that is still fairly in an embryonic stage in terms of its commercial development, so we need to recognize that nobody knows everything, and we can all benefit from enhanced collaboration.

The Task Force was established to try to give a focused push in this direction. I am hopeful that we will come up with concrete areas where we can show that prevention is a top priority, and that the Arctic Council can add value by bringing those institutions closer together.

GAMBLE: AIA has a mandate to work in the international arena, and there is really no forum for us to work in that has anywhere near the significance of the AC. The AC is absolutely where we want to be to try to work on this. This is an international forum, yes, but it also gives us the chance to interact directly with members of the US government who are involved with these issues. And not only that, we’re also in direct contact with people from the Russian Federation. So because we have constituencies in both countries, the fact that we are able to work so closely with both governments simultaneously is a really effective tool. So when we talk about things we consider to be important, both governments that are involved hear us immediately. So that makes the Arctic Council a tremendously effective forum.

Not only that, we also get to discuss these issues with the other Permanent Participants. So it is really valuable to be able to talk with the Saami Council, for example, and ask what their experience is with the Norwegian Coastal Authority when it comes to prevention.

When people who aren’t as familiar with this forum ask me what the AC is, and why it is important, I just cannot emphasize enough the opportunities that are here, particularly for the indigenous people of the Arctic, because there really is no other forum that allows us to be so directly involved and have a seat at the table. So again, we feel the Arctic Council is really important to us. If there is an issue that we believe is important and that we need to bring to the forefront, the AC is our first choice and our most effective means to do that.