Russia is moving ahead with plans to drill in the Arctic (with BP at its side, no less). This is a clear wake-up call: Arctic basin countries need to create an agreement on international environmental standards for the Arctic.
Because oil exploration exposes the Arctic to spills that cross artificial boundaries on a map, international circumpolar environmental standards are critical to help prevent oil spills and respond effectively when they happen (lest we have another Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil spill on our hands).
Russia is honest about a vital detail that the United States isn’t willing to admit: They don’t have the ability to clean up a spill in the Arctic.
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the U.S. and Canada decided to hold off on Arctic drilling for the time being. Yet the U.S. is posturing as though we could safely drill in the Arctic someday. So, we have the U.S.’s unrealistic attitude about our ability to effectively clean up oil spills under harsh Arctic conditions—frigid, ice-covered waters, many months of darkness, intense fog and wind, and tsunamis. Add to this, Russia’s reckless attitude toward drilling there even when it acknowledges that it can’t clean up an Arctic spill.
What is urgently needed, then, are international environmental standards on oil spill prevention and response that would govern the entire Arctic region (something Earthjustice’s International Program is working on).
Earthjustice is also advocating for ecosystem-based management, shipping standards and restrictions on use of dirty fuel in the Arctic. As Russia moves ahead with its drilling plans, we’re redoubling our work to strengthen international environmental governance of the Arctic to protect this invaluable region.