The UK government’s support for Arctic Oil drilling was labelled ‘reckless’ today by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been quietly supporting oil companies’ Arctic ambitions but this is the first time there has been public scrutiny of the department’s actions in relation to Arctic drilling.
The Committee published their report on the same day an environment committee of MEPs in Brussels called for tougher financial guarantees from oil companies to ensure they could pay for spills in European waters, and only days after Shell was forced to cancel their plan to drill in the Arctic this year when a crucial piece of safety equipment that would be needed to stop a leak was damaged.
The EAC announced their findings after hearing several evidence sessions. Platform attended one in which FCO minister Henry Billingham was worryingly laissez-faire about Arctic drilling.
Joan Walley, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, was damning in her assessment:
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.
The committee called for a complete halt in Arctic drilling as the infrastructure to deal with a large clean up operation is not in place. As Platform outlined in our report Out in the Cold, conventional oil spill response techniques are not adequate in Arctic conditions. If a spill like BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster were to happen just before winter, oil could be left to spill under the ice for six months before any clean up could be attempted. The results would be catastrophic.
The committee was clear that the FCO’s support for oil companies must end. Caroline Lucas, a member of the Committee, called on the government to ensure UK registered oil companies shelve plans for Arctic drilling
The UK government now has a responsibility to respond to this EAC report and show vital leadership on the issue by doing all it can to urgently secure a moratorium on Arctic drilling – starting with companies registered in this country.
The FCO’s eagerness to lobby on behalf of British companies was outlined by Platform’s Arctic Anxieties report. FoIA documents obtained by Platform revealed 18 months of close interaction between BP and the UK Embassy in Moscow – with the company receiving access to large amounts of ministers time. One ambassadorial email showed how BP expected either Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg or Energy & Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne to attend the signing ceremony for their (eventually unsuccessful) Rosneft deal with only three days notice. The government complied to this request and Chris Huhne put aside four hours for the event.
The Government must stop lobbying Arctic countries to open up for drilling on behalf of British companies. In light of the findings of its own parliamentary committee, this reckless pursuit of oil company profits needs to cease.