* Drilling should stop until stronger safeguards in place
* Pan-Arctic oil spill response standard needed
* Climate change concerns should limit new oil, gas drilling
By Nina Chestney
LONDON, Sept 20 The "reckless gold rush" of oil
and gas exploration in the Arctic should stop until stronger
safeguards against spills are introduced, a UK Parliament
committee said on Thursday, just days after Shell put a
drilling project on hold.
The report by the Environmental Audit Committee, made up of
UK Members of Parliament, called for a halt to drilling until a
pan-Arctic oil spill response standard is put in place.
It recommended that a stricter regime be introduced to make
companies financially liable for any clean-up costs if a spill
"We are witnessing a reckless gold rush in this pristine
wilderness as big companies and governments make a grab for the
world's last untapped oil and gas reserves," said Joan Walley,
chairwoman of the committee.
"Oil companies should come clean and admit that dealing with
an oil spill in the icy extremes of the Arctic would be
Currently, the infrastructure to mount a large clean-up
operation in the event of a spill is not in place and response
techniques have not been proven to work in such severe
conditions, she added.
A Foreign Commonwealth Office spokeswoman told Reuters the
government welcomed the report and was considering its findings.
It is estimated that the Arctic holds 30 percent of the
world's undiscovered gas and 13 percent of undiscovered oil.
Investment from the oil, gas, mining and shipping sectors could
reach $100 billion or more in the next decade.
However, the commercial viability of exploration in such a
remote environment is unknown and huge risks remain as firms
face huge costs from complying with safety standards, developing
technology, transport and insurance.
This week, Shell gave up hope of striking oil this
year in the Arctic but said it will drill wells before the ice
closes in in preparation for a search next year.
BP has indefinitely suspended a $1.5 billion offshore
oil project in Alaska due to the cost and technical setbacks,
while the Shtockman consortium mothballed a plan to exploit a
huge gas field in the Russian Barents Sea.
The committee said concerns about climate change should also
limit any new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. It called for
an internationally recognised environmental sanctuary to be
established in at least part of the region.
It also accused the UK government of failing to show how
future gas and oil extraction from the Arctic could be in line
with its commitment to limit global average temperature rise to
below 2 degrees Celsius this century, a threshold widely viewed
as avoiding the worse effects of climate change.
This month, Arctic sea ice reached its lowest level since
satellite records began and could vanish in summertime as early
as 2015, some scientists have warned.
On Tuesday, experts said pollution in the Arctic from
shipping and oil and gas industries could accelerate the thaw.