Tuesday, April 19, 2011

BP Macondo/Deepwater Horizon One Year Later - Implications for the Arctic Ocean

April 20, 2011: The one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is as weighty a reason as any for breaking the hiatus of several months on this site.  The DWH disaster not only led to formal reviews of arctic offshore drilling practices in the United States  and in Canada  (which had already begun such a review process);  it also prompted widespread discussion of best offshore practices in other arctic coastal states, and contributed to the convening of an Inuit Leaders Summit on Resource Development

The final report of the U.S. National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling includes specific reference to implications of the DWH disaster for the Arctic. The Recommendations as well as portions of Chapter Ten in the final report discuss “The Arctic ecosystem, the need for scientific information and informed decision-making, and Alaska native peoples,”  “Arctic Spill Response and Containment,” and “International Standards for Arctic Oil and Gas”.  On the last point,  “the Commission recommends that strong international standards related to Arctic oil and gas activities be established among all the countries of the Arctic.” Recommendations, p. 56.  The Commission staff also prepared a background paper on The Challenges of Oil Spill Response in the Arctic.

Moving in the direction of stronger international standards, the US Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, held a Ministerial Forum on Offshore Drilling Containment  last week (April 14, 2011) to discuss international standards for well containment.  Canada, Norway, The Russian Federation, and the United States -- that is to say: all arctic coastal states save Denmark/Greenland, were there. Angola, Australia, Brazil, Netherlands, New Zealand Mexico, the EU, and the United Kingdom, also attended.

Secretary Salazar will also attend the May ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council with Secretary of State Clinton, where offshore oil and gas development is on the agenda. In 2009 the Arctic Council ministers endorsed “Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines” prepared by its PAME (Protection of the Marine Environment) working group.  The Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School has prepared studies of how offshore regulations in Canada, Greenland, Russia and the United States measure up to these Guidelines. 

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.