Comprehensive Program Needed to Address US Arctic Oil Spill Risk

The U.S. Coast Guard, which will need to expand its presence and performance capacity in the Arctic, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation should develop an oil spill training program in order to develop trained response teams in local villages. Industry also should continue its participation in local training initiatives as well.

The Coast Guard will need to bolster its capacity for area-specific training, icebreaking capability, improved availability of vessels for oil spill response and other emergency situations, and aircraft and helicopter support facilities for open water season and, eventually, year-round response.

“Furthermore, Arctic assignments for trained and experienced personnel and tribal liaisons should be of longer duration, to take full advantage of their skills,” NRC said. “Sustained funding will be needed to increase the USCG presence in the Arctic and to strengthen and expand its ongoing Arctic oil spill research programs.”

NRC also recommended that the Coast Guard expand its bilateral agreement with Russia to include Arctic oil spill scenarios and conduct regularly scheduled exercises to establish joint responses under Arctic conditions. The United States also should be on existing bilateral agreements with Russia and Canada to develop and exercise a joint contingency plan.

The National Research Council conducted the study on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Marine Mammal Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Oil Spill Recovery Institute.

The organizations asked the National Research Council to examine the current state of science and engineering for oil spill response and environmental assessment, with a focus on the potential impact on U.S. waters in the Bering Sea and the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Industry, academic, government, non-governmental, grassroots and international efforts should be integrated into the program, with a focus on peer review and transparency. An interagency permit approval process that will enable researchers to plan and execute deliberate releases in U.S. waters also is needed, NRC said in its report on recommendations for improving the United States’ readiness in preventing and responding to oil spills.


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