PEW Report

PEW - the complete Report
Oil Spill Prevention and Response in the U.S. Arctic Ocean: Unexamined Risks, Unacceptable Consequences, November 2010
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This report examines the risks, challenges and potential consequences of oil spills associated with oil and gas exploration and production in the outer continental shelf (OCS) of the United States Arctic Ocean. The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico prompted a reconsideration of the potential for a major blowout from proposed oil exploration or production in the Arctic OCS. This report was developed to contribute to the policy discussion regarding the risks and consequences of such spills.

Several key concepts underlie the technical information and analysis presented in this report:

  • The Arctic Ocean is a unique operating environment, and the characteristics of the Arctic OCS—its remote location, extreme climate and dynamic sea ice—exacerbate the risks and consequences of oil spills while complicating cleanup.
  • Oil spill contingency plans often underestimate the probability and consequence of catastrophic blowouts, particularly for frontier offshore drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
  • The impact of an oil well blowout in the U.S. Arctic Ocean could devastate an already stressed ecosystem, and there is very little baseline science upon which to anticipate the impact or estimate damage.
  • Oil spill cleanup technologies and systems are unproved in the Arctic Ocean, and recent laboratory and field trials (including the Joint Industry Program) have evaluated only discrete technologies under controlled conditions.
  • Certain environmental and weather conditions would preclude an oil spill response in the Arctic Ocean, yet an Arctic spill response gap is not incorporated into existing oil spill contingency plans or risk evaluations.

This report recommends several areas in which additional work is needed to reach a level of sufficient planning and preparedness to minimize the potentially adverse effects of an oil spill resulting from offshore oil and gas exploration or production in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Federal agencies should:

  1. Conduct baseline studies to better understand the marine ecosystem and increase scientific knowledge regarding the Arctic ecology and sensitivity to oil spills before introduction of new offshore oil spill risks.
  2. Improve spatial data and mapping of Arctic species, habitat and sensitive ecosystems.
  3. Develop oil spill trajectory models with the capability to model oil fate and behavior in the presence of a range of sea ice conditions.
  4. Require operators to plan for the possibility of a worst-case well blowout and adopt all available engineering and management measures to prevent blowouts.
  5. Conduct full-scale deployment exercises under a range of offshore Arctic conditions to determine the limits for safely and effectively mounting a large-scale offshore response in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
  6. Conduct an Arctic oil spill response gap analysis to delineate the upper operating limits of existing response technologies in the U.S. Arctic Ocean and then estimate the frequency and duration of periods when no oil spill response may be feasible.



Executive Summary

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 Purpose and Scope
1.2 Background
1.3 Key Concepts
1.3.1 The Arctic Ocean Is Different From Other Areas of the U.S. OCS
1.3.2 Government and Industry Oil Spill Plans Underestimate Blowout Risks
1.3.3 An Oil Spill Could Devastate the Arctic Ecosystem
1.3.4 Oil Spill Response Systems Are Unproved in the Arctic Ocean
1.3.5 An Oil Spill Response Gap Exists
1.4 Policy Recommendations

Chapter 2: The U.S. Arctic Ocean

2.1 Characteristics of the Arctic OCS Environment
2.1.1 Climate
2.1.2 Sea Ice
2.2 Transportation Infrastructure

Chapter 3: Oil Exploration, Infrastructure and Production Operations and Spill Risks in the Arctic Ocean

3.1 Historical Perspective on Oil and Gas in the Arctic Ocean
3.1.1 Worldwide
3.1.2 United States Arctic Ocean
3.2 Oil Exploration and Production Operations
3.2.1 Exploratory Drilling
3.2.2 Oil Production
3.3 Challenges to Oil Exploration and Production in the Arctic Ocean
3.3.1 Seasonal Ice
3.3.2 Extreme Storms
3.3.3 Infrastructure and Logistics
3.4 Potential for Blowouts and Oil Spills from Exploration and Production in the U.S. Arctic Ocean
3.4.1 Well Blowouts
3.4.2 Other Spills from Oil Production Operations

Chapter 4: Impact of Oil Spills on Arctic Environment and Ecology
4.1 Fate and Behavior of Oil Spilled in Arctic Waters
4.1.1 Weathering and Emulsification
4.1.2 Oil-Ice Interactions
4.1.3 Predicting the Fate of Oil in Sea Ice
4.1.4 Long-Term Fate of Oil Spilled in Cold-Water Environments
4.2 Vulnerabilities of the Arctic Ecosystem to Oil Spill Impacts
4.2.1 OilToxicity
4.2.2 Persistence of Oil Spilled in the Arctic
4.3 Impact of Oil Spills on the Arctic Environment, Ecology and People
4.3.1 Lower Trophic Level Species
4.3.2 Fish
4.3.3 Marine Mammals
4.3.4 Birds
4.3.5 People

Chapter 5: Limitations of Existing Oil Spill Response Technologies in the U.S. Arctic Ocean
5.1 Arctic Ocean Challenges
5.2 Stopping a Subsea Well Blowout
5.2.1 Subsea Well Containment and Control
5.2.2 ReliefWells
5.2.3 Challenges to Well Control in the U.S. Arctic Ocean
5.3 Applying Oil Spill Cleanup Methods in the Arctic Ocean
5.3.1 Spill Tracking, Surveillance and Modeling
5.3.2 Mechanical Recovery Methods
5.3.3 In-Situ Burning
5.3.4 Dispersants
5.4 Research and Development to Improve Oil Spill Response in Arctic Waters
5.4.1 Joint Industry Program on Oil Spill Response for Arctic Waters
5.4.2 Field Exercises and Oil Spill Drills in the U.S. Arctic Ocean

Chapter 6: Gaps in Oil Spill Prevention Planning, Response Capacity and Oversight in the U.S. Arctic Ocean
6.1 Arctic Oil Spill Response Gap
6.1.1 Response Limit Estimates for U.S. Arctic Ocean
6.2 Gaps in Oil Spill Response Planning for the U.S. Arctic Ocean
6.2.1 Oil Spill Contingency Planning for Chukchi Sea Leases
6.2.2 Planning Assumptions in Shell’s Chukchi Sea Oil Spill Contingency Plan 6.2.3 Gaps in Response Capacity for Subsea Well Blowout in the Chukchi Sea 6.2.4 Gaps in Planning and Response Capacity in the Beaufort Sea

Chapter 7: Recommendations
7.1 Improve Arctic Oil Spill Science, Monitoring and Assessment
7.1.1 Close the Knowledge Gaps Regarding Arctic Oil Spill Impacts
7.1.2 Improve Spatial Data on Environmental Sensitivities
7.1.3 Develop Arctic Oil Spill Trajectory Models
7.1.4 Consider Cumulative Impacts of Oil Exploration and Production in Arctic OCS
7.2 Assess and Plan for Worst-Case Blowout Risks
7.2.1 Conduct Risk Assessment
7.2.2 Require More Realistic Worst-Case Blowout Scenarios
7.2.3 Improve Oil Spill Prevention Technologies for Arctic Exploration and Production
7.3 Improve Arctic OCS Oil Spill Response Capacity
7.3.1 Assess Existing Oil Spill Response Capacity for Oil Spills in Arctic OCS
7.3.2 Require Operators to Demonstrate Oil Spill Response Capabilities During Agency-Led Field Exercises
7.3.3 Improve On-Water Oil Spill Response Systems and Techniques for Arctic OCS Conditions
7.4 Conduct an Arctic OCS Oil Spill Response Gap Analysis

Appendix A: Acronyms and Abbreviations Appendix B: Glossary


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