Arctic Council Unveils Oil & Gas Assessment

The long-awaited results of the Arctic Council Oil and Gas Assessment was released at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromso, Norway on Jan. 21, 2008.

In 2002, Arctic Council Ministers requested their working groups collaborate on an assessment of Oil and Gas in the Arctic. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) was charged to coordinate the work.

The objective of the assessment is to present a holistic assessment of the environmental, social and economic, and human health impacts of current oil and gas activities in the Arctic, and to evaluate the likely course of development of Arctic oil and gas activities and their potential impacts in the near future. The assessment offers a balanced and reliable document for decision makers in support of sound future management of oil and gas activities in the Arctic.

Between 2004 and 2007, experts from Arctic countries, together with experts from indigenous peoples' organizations, industry, and other countries and organizations participated in the preparation of the scientific assessment of Oil and Gas in the Arctic - Effects and Potential Effects. The outcome of this work will be published in a fully-referenced technical report during the spring of 2008. This report is built around five substantive chapters covering: oil and gas industry activities; socio-economic impacts; input and fate of hydrocarbons in the environment; toxicity and organism-level impacts, including impacts on human health; and ecosystem-level impacts. The final chapter provides an overall assessment and presents recommendations for scientific follow-up. The lead scientists responsible for the assessment report will present their findings during the scientific part of the Arctic Frontiers Conference.

On the basis of this scientific documentation, AMAP has prepared an overview report for policy-makers and the general public. This report condenses the hundreds of pages of technical background into a series of messages reflecting the findings of the scientific assessment.

The key findings of the assessment, as summarized in the overview report, will be presented during the policy-related sessions of the Arctic Frontiers Conference. Those findings are that:

1. Extensive oil and gas activity has occurred in the Arctic, with much oil and gas produced and much remaining to be produced

2. Natural seeps are [estimated to be] the major source of petroleum hydrocarbon contamination in the Arctic environment

3. Petroleum hydrocarbon concentrations are generally low

4. On land, physical disturbance is the largest effect

5. In marine environments, oil spills are the largest threat

6. Impacts on individuals, communities, and governments can be both positive and negative

7. Human health can suffer [from oil and gas related] pollution and social disruption, but revenues can improve health care and overall well-being

8. Technology and regulations can help reduce negative impacts

9. Responding to major oil spills remains a challenge in remote, icy environments

10. More oil and gas activity is expected

11. Many risks remain

12. Planning and monitoring can help reduce risks and impacts