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article imageOp-Ed: Cairn Energy’s Arctic oil spill response plan its own disaster

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By Lynn Herrmann     Sep 6, 2011 in Environment
Edinburgh - As the oil and gas industry plows into the Arctic's frigid and inhospitable waters, a member's oil spill response plan has found the light of day, despite best efforts to keep it secret, and gives credence to concerns over the next great catastrophe.
With ExxonMobile and Russia’s Rosneft reaching a multi-billion dollar oil and gas deal over Arctic Ocean hydrocarbon reserves, the industry has been able to throw words around in attempts to assure the general public another BP Gulf disaster is not likely, but Cairn Energy’s recently published oil spill response plan (pdf), thanks to Greenpeace, shows how ill-equipped the industry is in dealing with such a disaster.
Cairn s oil spill response plan.
Cairn's oil spill response plan.
Image courtesy of Greenpeace UK
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Despite oil and gas propaganda claiming oil dispersed “naturally” in Shell’s recent North Sea spill and the determination a tar sands oil pipeline poses “no significant impacts” to one of the world’s largest aquifers, Cairn “dramatically understates the potential size and impacts of a blow out ... and dramatically overstates the potential effectiveness of any spill response,” said Richard Steiner, a professor formerly at the University of Alaska, the Guardian reports.
For instance, on page 78 of the plan , anyone with an operational brain can see Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh hasn’t got a clue when she claims in the Wall Street Journal, “We could respond to any incident within an hour.” Maybe she could share her company’s expertise with Cairn, because the Scottish company notes
Even in the most ideal conditions recovery rates will never be 100% and are actually more likely to be around 10 - 20 percent.
In a duh moment, Cairn notes the faster a response time, the better chance there is for recovery, as the oil will have had less time “to spread and fragment." However, the dismal nature of the report doesn’t stop there, as Cairn also notes if ice is present (think Arctic) on the water’s surface
it is likely that oil will become remobilised once there is a thaw.
Each line of the report gets better than the one before.
Operations are unlikely to be possible in wave heights exceeding 2m (failure of boom with oil being washed over) or in winds of more than 35 km/hr.
Maybe someone could send a video of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch to Cairn executives. Just sayin’.
Page 70 of the oil spill response plan is a lulu as well, with Cairn stating if ice is “entrained within the oil,” a secondary response would occur upon thaw. One can easily imagine an oil spill heading into the winter months. But don’t fear, Cairn has an answer for any problems associated with ice over.
Ice can be located by augering and recovered using ice slots. Sections of oiled ice can be cut out and allow the ice to thaw in a heated warehouse and then separating the oil from the water.
Okay, let’s just transport ice cubes, or ice blocks, contaminated with oil, to the nearest warehouse, if we can just get through the ice. Except winter’s coming on, and the Arctic is known for its darkness at that time of year. So, also on page 70, Cairn states
During the winter months there are very few hours of daylight which can cause serious operational complications.
Cairn’s answer is “limited portable lights.” Want more of this? How about the stresses associated with metal in extreme cold conditions? Or how about massive ice floes and ice chunks and ice bergs hitting oil platforms. Then there’s the matter of Greenland’s geography, with Cairn admitting on page 89
the coastal environment in Greenland does not facilitate containment, recover or protection due to the uneven rocky substrate that prevails in the region.
Sadly, or would that be honestly, Cairn adds on page 90
in some circumstances oiled shorelines are best left to recover naturally.
There’s that word again. Sorry about that, Greenland. Naturally.
One could go on, summarizing Cairn just thinks we’re all stupid, that no one will say anything, that no one will question this, that we need oil.
The fact Cairn’s oil spill response plan even surfaced is a story in itself. Increasing its pressure on the oil company, in July, around 60 Greenpeace activists entered Cairn’s offices near Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle, dressed in polar bear suits and searching for the oil spill response plan.
“More than 50,000 people have written to Cairn bosses demanding that they come clean over their oil spill response plan and our volunteers braved freezing Arctic seas to board Cairn's rig and look for these secret documents,” said Paul Morrozzo, a Greenpeace campaigner, according to the Guardian.
“In response, the rig master told the volunteers that if they wanted the plans they should go to Cairn's HQ. That's why today we've come to look inside their international headquarters and we won't leave until these oil spill papers are in the public domain,” Morrozzo added.
Long story short, Greenpeace didn’t publish the documents. Greenland’s government did, saying it “decided to publish the oil spill contingency plan in Greenland after having heard the wish of the public for such publication,” Greenpeace UK reports.
A Cairn spokeswoman told the Guardian its oil spill response plan “is robust and appropriately designed to deal with an incident in this area.”
Still, it would be wise to heed the words of Greenpeace on this issue. Campaigner Vicky Wyatt said: “It's no wonder Cairn Energy didn't want the public to see their secret spill plan. The company offers only giant assumptions and pie-in-the-sky solutions. This cowboy company are playing roulette with one of the most important and fragile environments on the planet, and must be stopped,” the Guardian notes.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
article:311179:50::0
More about to develop, Oil and gas, Arctic ocean, in the arctic, cairn energy
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