On August 10th, a suspected arctic oil spill off the east coast of Greenland was identified from satellite imagery. It was ‘suspected’ because nothing had been reported in that area and no one was around to confirm. The reported slick was 200 nautical miles from the town of Tasiilaq It would take five days to mobilize an airplane to survey the site and longer for a ship to reach the spill. By August 17th,the MV Knud Rasmussen reached the site but storms and pack ice prevented the ship from finding the slick.
So, yeah, by the time Greenland was able to respond the oil slick couldn’t be found, it is generally assumed that this was dumped from a passing freight ship but who knows. The good news is that satellite monitoring was able to identify it quickly, the bad news is that this really demonstrates how unprepared the world is for a major arctic oil spill.
Still, Greenland seems to be moving full steam ahead with arctic drilling and this is causing some political rifts. They have even published the safety plans for oil spills at one of the countries major drilling sites. Worst case scenario calls for a 52 hour response time mobilizing out of Britain… seems to be a bit of a gap between plan and the real life response time of 150+ hours…?
The real story here though is that this oil spill occurred in one of the ‘accessible’ parts of the arctic. This area does not get clogged with ice like Hudson Strait or Foxe Basin, yet arctic ice still prevented the Greenland military from reaching the site. Eastern Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait experienced near record ice this year. There was so much ice that the annual sealift vessels were unable to land in both Nunavik communities and Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit.
Despite the financial and environmental risks, no one should expect arctic oil drilling to slow down. Shell has $6 billion dollars invested in their arctic schemes, this is not pocket change. On a smaller scale, Omnitrax has seen just how much higher the profit margins are on oil than grain, their plans may be on hold but will re-surface, especially with a poor grain shipping season on the horizon. The establishment of an oil-spill research facility in Churchill will, unfortunately, make the case for shipping oil through Hudson Bay stronger. Its a tricky situation. As has been proven time and time again, cleaning up oil is a lot easier on paper than it is in water.
Now that we’re all depressed, here’s a really cool song from Mongolian band Hanggai… enjoy!