April 17, 2017 by John Nicholson
The World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-C), the Canadian arm of the international not-for-profit environmental activist organization, recently issued a report on Canada’s preparedness for cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic. In short, the WWF-C is of the view that remote Arctic communities face almost certain environmental catastrophe in the event of an oil spill from large shipping vessels.
The report chronicles research done by the WWF-C on the state and availability of oil-spill response equipment, training resources, and the communications infrastructure in the Arctic. Report researchers found major issues in all areas related to spill response in Canada’s Arctic.
The report states that first responders in the Arctic are typically members of the community and that they lace effective and reliable equipment to contain and clean-up an oil spill. Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is the standard marine fuel for cargo ships, tankers and large cruise ships. It is also one of the world’s dirtiest, most polluting ship fuels, and the most difficult to clean up.
The report also contains are review on the consequences of an oil spill in remote communities. Firstly, an oil spill would contaminate habitat for arctic wildlife and destroy fish habitat. Secondly, it would likely contaminant a wider area as it would get trapped under sea ice and potentially travel hundreds of kilometres.
A third report prepared by WWF-C outlines a framework for creating oil spill response plans in Nunavut’s remote communities. Recommendations from the reports include:
Though the chances of a large-scale oil spill in the Arctic are currently small, the consequences would be significant. As sea ice melts and ship traffic increases, there is an opportunity now, while traffic is still relatively low, to put measures in place to respond to spills, or prevent them from happening in the first place. Because sparsely populated Arctic communities assume the risk of spills, they need both adequate equipment and response plans specifically tailored to the extreme Arctic environment.