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article imageScientist plans to put crude into Arctic ocean to test clean-up

By Stephanie Dearing     May 16, 2010 in Environment
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is behind a plan to dump up to 1,200 liters of crude oil in the Arctic Ocean in a bid to test clean-up responses.
The request for permission has been made by the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, a federal institution that studies the oceans surrounding Canada. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, "... established by an Act of Parliament in 1985 and is responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs in support of Canada's scientific, ecological, social and economic interests in oceans and fresh waters. DFO is a national and international leader in marine safety and in the management of oceans and freshwater resources."
If approved, the research project will take place from September 8th to 20th this year. Called Improvement of Marine Oil Spill Response Methods for use in the Arctic, the purpose of the project is to "... provide new methods to clean up oil spills in the Arctic environment to protect our marine habitat and its living resources. The project will provide an opportunity for oil spill response personnel to refine their emergency response procedures and to test existing equipment (e.g. deployment of booms, skimmers) Scientific staff from the study team will give presentations to local communities to address issues and concerns regarding the state of oil spill response capability in the Arctic."
The project will be located in Barrow Strait Strait, Wellington Channel, Lancaster Sound. Area inhabitants will be briefed on the potential for the oil to be carried away from the test sites. The project director, Ken Lee, said the research is needed because "Ship traffic in the Arctic is increasing and will continue to increase because of community growth, industrial developments such as mining and oil and gas development, and tourism. Because of this, the risk of oil spills is also increasing. Although companies and governments take great precautions and use leading technology, accidental oil spills from marine shipping and other industrial activities are still a concern to many. Oil spill responders and clean-up teams in the Arctic face the challenges of ice, cold temperatures, isolated locations and limited day-light hours. Equipment for recovery of spilled oil is mostly designed for use in open-water conditions with no ice. "
The project test what Lee calls "enhanced dispersion." Using either chemicals or minerals, the dispersion material is expected to cause the oil on the water surface to "... be transferred into the water as small oil droplets. The droplets are diluted by natural tides and currents to low concentrations that have no effect on the health of living organisms. These small dispersed oil droplets are broken down more quickly by natural bacteria and thus, naturally removed from the ocean."
Lee plans twelve releases of oil, with 100 liters released at a time. The project team will test the water to see if the oil is breaking down like it should. If necessary, the team will be prepared to remove the oil from the water. A helicopter will monitor from above, and the Coast Guard will be involved. Lee said "... This project will help to develop operational guidelines for new oil spill clean-up tools for use in the Arctic to protect the environment and its living resources. Testing in actual environmental conditions, not just in the lab or in Southern rivers, is needed so that the new techniques can be used in the Arctic when needed."
A consultation with the area community is planned. However, Bob Weber of the Canadian Press spoke with an Inuit community leader, John Amagoalik, Manager of Lands for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. The local residents are not keen on having the research project take place, citing environmental concerns, in particular the migration of Beluga whales in the area.
The study replicates similar research recently conducted in the waters off the coast of Norway, as reported by Greening of Oil.
The proposal is being considered by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
Interest in Arctic oil is high. BP has three offshore licences for the Beaufort Sea, off the coast of Canada, while Chevron has interest in the Western Arctic Ocean.
Those are not the only companies with interest in Arctic offshore petroleum, but the real concern is drilling activities, particularly when the Deepwater Horizon spill is still out of control. Shell will soon be drilling exploratory wells in the American Arctic now that it has managed to win against court cases launched by environmentalists, reports the Huffington Post. Shell will not be the only company at work. The Yukon News said Greenland is also allowing drilling, beginning this summer.
More about Arctic ocean, Crude oil, Oil spills, Offshore drilling, Inuit
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