(corrects 10th paragraph to say Shell rig ran aground, did not
* UK wants tighter rules to protect Arctic biodiversity
* UK supports Arctic oil spill prevention
* Arctic policy later this year to include oil, gas drilling
By Karolin Schaps
LONDON, Jan 15 Britain opposes a stop to oil and
gas drilling in the Arctic, the government said in a report on
Tuesday, dismissing a parliamentary committee call to impose an
exploration ban in the environmentally fragile region.
The Arctic holds 30 percent of the world's undiscovered gas
and 13 percent of its untapped oil, experts estimate, but
exploration there is risky and costly, and any spills would
severely threaten the environment.
Members of the Arctic Council including Norway, the United
States and Russia are promoting safe fossil fuel exploration in
the Arctic, but none have responded to environmentalists' calls
to ban the activity outright.
Britain is not a member of the Arctic Council but is one of
six observer countries that have an interest in activities in
the Arctic and can make recommendations to the eight governing
In September, a British parliamentary committee urged the
government to immediately stop all oil and gas drilling in the
Arctic, which it described as "reckless", until an oil-spill
response standard is put in place.
Instead of a ban, the foreign ministry said it was pressing
for tighter global laws to protect marine biodiversity in the
Arctic and supported efforts to improve oil spill prevention.
"These measures - combined with effective and ambitious
global action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions - are
more likely to be effective in protecting the Arctic environment
than pressing for a complete moratorium on all drilling in the
Arctic region," the government said in the report.
The government plans to publish the first policy framework
for the Arctic later this year to spell out Britain's position
regarding oil and gas exploration, sustainable fishing and
shipping in the Arctic, among other policy interests, the report
"We are acutely aware of the potential environmental impacts
of an oil spill in the Arctic and recognise the risks of
drilling for hydrocarbons. We therefore fully support the use
of the highest environmental and drilling standards in the
Arctic," a government spokesman said.
The Shell-owned oil rig Kulluk ran aground in
stormy weather in Alaska on New Year's Eve, highlighting the
dangers involved in Arctic oil and gas exploration.
The UK's Environmental Audit committee said on Tuesday it
would invite Shell to give further evidence to Parliament on the
incident and might update its report to include the new
"The grounding of the Kulluk rig raises serious questions
about the safety of Shell's operations in the Arctic," said Joan
Walley, the committee chairwoman.
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; editing by Jane Baird and Bill