Arctic oil puts Canada’s coast on the line

Before the Arctic is developed, John Streicker wants to see hundreds of gallons of oil dumped into the Beaufort Sea. "We need an oil spill," says the local climate change expert and Green Party of Canada chair.

Before the Arctic is developed, John Streicker wants to see hundreds of gallons of oil dumped into the Beaufort Sea.

“We need an oil spill,” says the local climate change expert and Green Party of Canada chair.

“We need to dump it over the side and watch.”

Streicker knows a lot about the Arctic, but he doesn’t know what would happen if a spill like the Gulf of Mexico’s BP disaster struck the region.

Nobody knows, he says, because it hasn’t happened … yet.

What Streicker does know, is that the oil would likely end up on Canada’s northern coast.

The proof lies in the sea ice.

All the remaining multi-year sea ice in the Arctic sits on Canada’s shores, he says.

With the climate warming and the ocean opening up, ice is moving around more freely.

And the ocean currents and trade winds bring everything to Canada, says Streicker.

That’s why the only multi-year sea ice in the Arctic is on Canada’s shores.

“So what used to be issues left in one country’s backyard will now become our issues.”

Russia is in the process of building a nuclear-powered oil rig in the Arctic Ocean, says Streicker.

“And the trade winds come from Siberia to Canada.”

If something goes wrong, it’s likely Canada will bear the brunt of it.

In 2004, a Russian dredging ship beached and sunk, spilling 200 tonnes of oil.

“That showed Russia couldn’t even deal with a small spill,” says Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, who has championed the need for oil-spill clean up plans in Parliament for the past few months.

Russia isn’t the only concern.

Greenland is also drilling for oil.

And so was Alaska, until a moratorium was imposed following the BP spill.

There’s already a court case in Alaska to end the imposed ban. And during the case, “one lawyer testified that not a single operation has the ability to clean up a spill in deep water,” says Bagnell.

“If (an oil spill) drifts into our waters, we need to be ready.”

More than 5,000 boats were involved in the BP spill cleanup.

Few of those boats would have the ability to go through ice, says Bagnell.

“And we don’t even have an Arctic port.”

In the 1970s, Environment Canada scientist William Adams began extensively researching the potential impact of oil pollution in the Arctic.

More than 30 years later, Adams still has no answers.

“Should a well blowout occur or a ship release oil under the conditions found in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean, there are very few options even now for the cleanup of such a major environmental disaster,” he told a Parliamentary committee in 2009.

The only possible solution is an “all-government approach,” he said.

Streicker agrees.

“There’s all this talk about Arctic sovereignty,” he says.

“But it would be easier if we worked together.”

The northern countries could share resources, monitor ships entering Arctic waters and work closely on clean-up plans, he says.

As the climate continues to warm, Canada’s northern coast will likely become the last remaining habitat for Arctic animals dependent on sea ice, adds Streicker.

“So if there’s an oil spill, it could be even more dramatic.”

The National Energy Board is currently reviewing the dangers of Arctic off-shore drilling.

“I think the long-term effects of an oil spill should be reviewed as the Arctic environment is very different from other areas of the world,” wrote professor Michelle Danielson, on the energy board’s comments pages. “I have visited Eskimobyen on Ellesmere Island where whale oil still saturates the shore line even after 600-plus years.”

“I am an Inuvialuk. I live in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT,” wrote Vince Teddy in another comment.

“My family, relatives and many other Inuvialuit live in Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Inuvik, Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour. The Arctic offshore is related and intertwined with my livelihood and culture and way of life.”

Streicker has also talked to the National Energy Board.

“I don’t want to be alarmist,” he says.

“But these problems are going to arrive at our door.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com