Greenland publishes Arctic oil spill plan

AP News
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Posted: Aug 15, 2011 3:18 PM
Greenland publishes Arctic oil spill plan

Following criticism by Greenpeace, Greenland's government on Monday decided to release Cairn Energy PLC's oil spill plan for its deepwater drilling in the Arctic.

Greenland's government published the Scottish oil company's contingency plan on this website http://bit.ly/r6ltfh, saying it had listened into the public's wish for such information.

Joern Skov Nielsen, deputy minister at Greenland's Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, said the document contains plans on how to deal with potential oil spills of all sizes and icebergs and other threats in the Arctic waters.

"One of the worst cases they are looking into is a 5,000 barrel-a-day spill, and the oil spill plan certainly demonstrates that they can handle more than the double of that within the resources described in the plan," Skov Nielsen said at a conference call. He said Cairn's cooperation in a global oil spill network means the company can handle "much larger spills than that."

Greenpeace has said oil drilling presents a threat to the fragile Arctic environment and criticized Cairn for not taking the extra precautions needed to avoid accidents such as the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP's well spewed out up to 57,000 barrels of oil a day.

Greenpeace's oil campaigner, Ben Ayliffe, said Monday that his quick look the document did not turn up anything that would reduce the risk of Arctic drilling.

"There's a lot of spin here, but very little to allay the concerns of experts and analysts who believe a BP-style blowout would wreck the fragile Arctic environment and its fisheries," he said in an email to The Associated Press. "Our experts will now analyze it and fully expect it to confirm what the UK government said in private documents, that an Arctic spill would be 'near impossible' to clean up."

Cairn, which won permission in May to drill up to seven oil exploration wells off Greenland's west coast, had previously said authorities required the oil spill plan to be confidential.

CEO Simon Thomson said Monday he was pleased to share the plan.

"In the unlikely event of a serious incident, such as an oil spill, we believe we have put in place a thorough and robust contingency plan," he said in a statement.

Greenland decided to release the plan following the conclusion of a risk assessment, the government said in a statement.

It also said it had previously been concerned about what activists would do with the information because Greenpeace members have tried to stop Cairn's activities several times since it started drilling this year by climbing oil rigs.

But Greenland is a semiautonomous Danish territory and Denmark's Foreign Ministry has taken a step that will make it easier to stop such protests, Skov Nielsen said.

The ministry said law enforcement officials can now take action against people who are within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of the safety zone surrounding an oil rig. Previous rules had meant authorities couldn't intervene until activists were within 500 meters of a rig, making it difficult to stop them, Skov Nielsen said.

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Malin Rising can be reached at http://twitter.com/malinrising