Arctic oil spills likely to spread across borders: study

Polar bear DNA studied in footprints
A polar bear stands on a ice flow in Baffin Bay above the arctic circle as seen from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

New research suggests a major oil spill in Canada’s western Arctic would likely spread quickly and foul oceans around Alaska and possibly as far west as Russia.

The research, funded by the World Wildlife Fund, comes as the National Energy Board prepares to consider blowout prevention plans in two separate proposals for offshore energy drilling.

The authors considered 22 different oil-spill scenarios in the Beaufort Sea, off the northwest coast of the Northwest Territories.

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They found that in all cases there would be at least an up to 50 per cent chance that an oily slick would spread into Alaska.

In the case of a blowout, it’s almost certain that oil would spread across international boundaries, with an up to a 25 per cent chance of affecting Russia.

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Subsurface oil contamination from a blowout would also be highly likely to spread into Alaska.

The energy board is considering proposals from Imperial Oil and Chevron Canada for offshore drilling in the Arctic.

Current rules require them to have a second drill rig nearby to promptly sink a pressure-relieving well in the case of a blowout, which would make capping it much easier.

But both companies are proposing methods they say would be equally effective and much cheaper.

The board has agreed to consider their alternatives.