Field studies of oil spills in ice covered Arctic waters: recommendations based on historic and current knowledge William (Bill) A. Adams and Christopher Ives restco ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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Feb 4, 2013 NRC Presentation in Chicago Remote Energy Security Technologies Collaborative

Field studies of oil spills in ice covered Arctic waters: recommendations based on historic and current knowledge
William (Bill) A. Adams and Christopher Ives


Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

  1. Introduction

This review of field studies of oil spills in the Arctic is intended to provide important background leading to recommendations based on actual experience with oil in the Arctic environment. Two studies will be presented in some detail since they involved the largest spill volumes and the most comprehensive scientific studies associated with such experimental spills. It has proven difficult to repeat tests on these scales due to greater concern with the optics of such test spills with the public both in the Arctic and elsewhere. The 2011 Review of Offshore Drilling in the Canadian Arctic by the Canadian National Energy Board will be discussed with mention of the collected information on the topic. As well some information from Russia based on a recent trip by WAA to Siberia will be discussed.
The first test spill to be discussed is that conducted in 1975 in the Canadian western Arctic as part of the Beaufort Sea Project (BSP). A good summary of this work is provided in five books that were written to summarize 45 scientific reports (some 5000 pages) about the Arctic Ocean and oil development that were published as part of the BSP by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The Beaufort Sea Project and Off-Shore Drilling in the Arctic

Although this research was done some 38 years ago, and notwithstanding extensive research that has been conducted in the interim, such as the Baffin Island Oil Spill (BIOS) experiments, and SINTEF-led Joint Industry Program on Oil Spill Contingency for Arctic and Ice-covered Waters, and others summarized on the Table below, the BSP publications still remain the most comprehensive body of work on the environmental and climate impacts of oil drilling in the Arctic.

The second experimental spill experiment to be reviewed will be that undertaken in the period 1980-83 called the Baffin Island Oil Spill (BIOS) which was also conducted in Canada, but in this case in the eastern Arctic.

The table above is taken from “Spill Response in the Arctic Offshore” - Feb 2, 2012 FINAL, prepared for the American Petroleum Institute Programme on Oil Spill Recovery in Ice by Stephen Potter, Ian Buist and Ken Trudel - SL Ross Environmental Research Ltd., David Dickins – DF Dickins Associates, and Ed Owens – Polaris Applied Sciences. This 2012 report also provides a brief summary of each of the test spills mentioned in the table.

Information Dissemination and Level of Effort
It is significant that this extensive body of research from the 1970s was also given a wider audience by having summary books published that attempted to reach out and inform the broader public on a topic felt by the organizers of this research and the government bodies and industrial participants of that period to be of significance not only to the local populations living in the Arctic regions, but to people everywhere with a concern about decisions that could impact not only the Arctic, but ecosystems and the climate globally. In today’s dollars, the approximate cost of the BSP was Cdn $50 million and that spent on the BIOS Project was likely of at least the same order of magnitude. These two projects were funded at a level greater than that spent on more recent studies by a wide margin.
It appears that this approach to information dissemination is not being taken by today’s research organizations or bodies funding research related to Arctic development since results of more recent studies are usually buried in technical publications and not published for a wider audience. There is also a recent good example in Canada of targeting information dissemination efforts rather than seeking broad dissemination of information. The National Energy Board (NEB) of Canada in the Board’s recent Review of Offshore Drilling in the Arctic, perhaps in attempting to influence local aboriginal communities in order to obtain their support for oil and gas development, only held meetings in the Canadian Arctic and made no significant efforts to reach out to the majority of Canadians other than those that would be directly impacted by offshore drilling. It is our view that scientific information provided widely and impartially is far better than either industry or environmental lobby groups being the principal source of information to the general public or of only specific audiences being targeted in review processes. Such targeted efforts do not provide a forum for a wider audience leading to informed discussion based on scientific and culturally based information. The NEB did provide a web site for public access to all information provided to the Board during the hearings. It is given in the references section. The two reports of the NEB on this topic are excellent documents and well worth review and do represent a valuable resource with respect to the issues related to offshore drilling in the Arctic and the filing requirements for drilling in the Canadian Arctic. These reports are available from the NEB web site as per the information below:

Review of Offshore Drilling in the Canadian Arctic Dec 2011 see document A37753

Filing Requirements for Offshore Drilling In the Canadian Arctic December 2011 see document A37698

Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil and BP have formed a joint venture called the Beaufort Sea Exploration Joint Venture and have submitted a Preliminary Information Package (PIP) in December 2012 (see Ref. 8.33) for drilling in the offshore Beaufort Sea in Canada. They are using the NEB Filing Requirements document above to guide their application. Drilling is proposed offshore in waters over 1000m which are in the path of the polar pack over the winter months. Ice breakers are proposed to protect the drill ship. The well will take three years to complete.

In recent years it has become no longer acceptable to conduct such large test spills in the field, so the information from these two early Canadian studies is extremely valuable. In making decisions with regard to the regulation of offshore exploration for and production of oil and gas in the Arctic, access to basic information such as how oil behaves in ice-covered waters, its impact on the environment, and how it might be cleaned up should a large spill or blowout occur is essential. The information in these books represents an important resource for understanding and assessing the future planetary climate impacts of any damage to this highly sensitive ecosystem. It provides key background for making decisions concerning further exploration and extraction. Since consideration is again being given to drilling for oil offshore in the Arctic Ocean, and the National Energy Board of Canada has recently conducted hearings, we at RESTCo believe that this information should be made widely available to everyone involved. The vigilance that will be required, and the questions that need to be addressed, before undertaking drilling that involves a risk of under-ice release of oil and gas are recorded in the epilogue1 of Oil-Spill Countermeasures (see Section 5).
It would appear that the only way to avoid extensive contamination of Arctic beaches, and consequent damage to wildlife, is to guarantee that if a blowout occurs at an offshore drilling site, it will be brought under control rapidly.
The documents related to the BSP have been compiled by RESTCo (Remote Energy Security Technologies Collaborative) which is a private Canadian company established in 2010 by several like-minded individuals who want to work with remote or off-grid communities, notably in the Canadian Arctic and Boreal regions, to reduce the vulnerability of their energy systems.
We wish to bring this information, derived from extensive field studies of actual test oil spills in the Arctic, to the attention of the various interested parties. Since this published information is out of print, we have made it available on our web site ( as part of our effort to work with remote communities on projects leading toward a more secure and healthy future. RESTCo received permission from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to reproduce these books.
In the next section, the contents of the five summary books are described. We at RESTCo hope that readers will be encouraged to explore this unique BSP material and that from other experimental oil spills such as the Baffin Island Oil Spill (BIOS) Project in more detail. In fact these two test spills because of their size and the comprehensive nature of the research undertaken offer excellent models for planning field research on oil spill response and impacts today. They are also examples of how, with international cooperation and multi-sectoral support, such large and expensive multiyear research projects are able to succeed.
1Draft Review of Potential Beaufort Sea Oil Spill Countermeasures, 1978, published by the federal governmentʼs Environmental Protection Service.

  1. Review of Summary Books from the Beaufort Sea Project

2.1 Fishes, Invertebrates, and Marine Plants
This book was not published until 1985, ten years after the fieldwork was undertaken. It provides an introduction to the fishes, marine invertebrates such as crabs and shrimp, and plant life of the region, including the role of plankton as the basis of the marine food chain. The complexity of the marine environment is explained by the variable salinity that results from mixing of the vast freshwater flows from the Mackenzie River with ocean currents (the Beaufort Gyre). This diverse environment produces great variability in the relationships between the fishes, invertebrates, and plants that inhabit this region.
The report then discusses potential impacts of industrial development, namely exploration for gas and oil reserves. Community subsistence fishing is discussed, including the socio-economic effects of such development activity. The specific dangers and impacts of oil spills on the ecosystem are reviewed.
It is suggested that the impact on the environment of exploration, full-scale production then transportation of the oil from this region, might constitute a greater risk than a single catastrophic blowout or spill from a grounded oil tanker. Experience on the North Slope of Alaska and with the pipeline to Valdez bears out this conclusion.
2.2 Birds and Marine Mammals
The Arctic has often been portrayed as barren and the Beaufort Sea as a biological desert. The BSP showed this to be untrue. As this summary says, “During its contrasting seasons the southeastern Beaufort Sea is home to over two million migratory birds, some 50,000 seals, 1,500 polar bears, 5,000 whales.” More importantly, the interdependence of the people of the Arctic and the wildlife must be considered: the summary states that “Comparisons of the cash value of wildlife products with money spent on oil exploration, or with the potential value of oil reserves, have little validity in making decisions on resource development in this region.”
Since Arctic ecosystems are sensitive because of the nature of the permafrost terrain and slow rates of growth, reproduction, and decay, they would be slow to recover from disturbance and damage caused by development. As indicated in the summary, “These factors do not preclude industrial activity in the Beaufort Sea region. But it is evident that development must proceed with caution; and it must demonstrate a philosophical respect for the land and its people. This report is not an impact statement, rather, its purpose is to present information; not arguments for or against the development of petroleum or other resources in the western arctic.”
Many papers and reports were used in the preparation of the overview. The studies have given us sufficient knowledge of the birds and mammals in this area of the Arctic that we can state, “Enough has been learned to impress upon us that massive, unplanned, or premature industrial development could have catastrophic environmental consequences.”
As is pointed out in this summary, it is certain that development projects will proceed at some time, especially in the Beaufort Sea area, and short-term wildlife studies lasting one or two years are not adequate to evaluate the complex ecological impacts of such activity. According to the summary, the topics about which little is presently known include the wintering ranges of bowhead whales and belugas, the variability of seal populations, and the ecological relationships between polar bears, seals, and arctic foxes.

2.3 Crude Oil in Cold Water
This book outlines the natural process by which petroleum is formed, the locations of the main reserves, and the new frontiers of exploration to find additional reserves. It describes the “first oil boom” in the Beaufort Sea, during which bowhead whales were driven nearly to extinction by commercial whalers, owing to the enormous quantity of oil obtained from each animal.
The major concern to authorities is a potential blowout during the exploratory drilling phase: “It is still possible that if a sea-bottom oil well ran wild in the latter part of the short summer’s work season and did not plug itself, the drilling of a relief well could not be completed until the following summer.” No one knows what the flow rate might be ― perhaps 2,000 or even 10,000 barrels a day for a year or even two years before the oil is stopped.
The southern Beaufort Sea is a huge estuary where the Mackenzie River meets the Arctic Ocean. In the summer, oil spilled in this estuary would be moved by the flows of these intermixing waters. In the winter, it would drift with the sea ice. The purpose of this book is to trace the drift of oil, flowing unchecked from an imaginary offshore blowout, through the seasons of the year. No mathematical models of the oil-spill trajectories were developed. Mathematical representations of sea, wind, and ice interactions in the Beaufort Sea were not feasible at that time, and would still be problematic in 2013.
Much of the text is devoted to the oceanography of the Beaufort Sea and such features as sediments, storm surges, and sea ice. Diagrams show the possible spread of oil from a blowout that occurs in the spring, summer, or winter. These predictions show where and when the oil would be most likely to appear, but do not forecast its actual drift; this cannot be done with any more accuracy than next summer’s weather can be foreseen.
The implicit message is that if an oil-well blowout did occur on the continental shelf of the Beaufort Sea, the paths that the spilled oil might take, its eventual fate, and potential effects on marine wildlife are to a large degree unknown and unpredictable.

2.4 Oil-Spill Countermeasures
The first part of this book describes the rudiments of an undersea well, the precautions that are taken to resist the forces that cause a blowout, and the nature of ice into which oil could leak.

The latter part addresses questions and challenges that would arise in the event of an uncontrolled blowout: determining how oil and gas interact with ice, tracking the oil and cleaning it up ― both on the water and on shorelines, and disposing of the collected oil and associated contaminated materials.

The premise is that blowouts do happen, principally because of human error, notwithstanding extensive precautionary practices. In 1974, an experiment was conducted in Saanich Bay, British Columbia, involving the release of large volumes of compressed air at sea-floor level to simulate an uncontrolled release of gas from a well. This led to a new understanding of horizontal and vertical water flows surrounding the vertical plume of air. It indicated that a degree of natural confinement of oil released simultaneously with the gas would occur initially; over time, however, the combined behaviour of the gas and oil in icy conditions would increase the rate of oil spread.
When associated with ice, oil takes several distinctly different forms, and therefore many different techniques are needed to recover it. A worst condition prevails when oil is entrapped in moving polar pack ice. It could take years for such oil to be released. Based on the assumptions made in this study, a swath of contaminated ice 1 km wide by 600 km long could form during a single winter. The tarry residue would have to be cleaned up within 30 days or it would spread to an uncontrollable extent. For this, an estimated 750 people would be required. Ice conditions would not permit the use of heavy machinery. Recent studies indicate that this estimate is far too low in terms of cleanup resources required.
Tracking of contaminated ice is crucial. The assumption is made that a likely time for a blowout would be the end of a drilling season. Multiple techniques are described for tracking ice movement during the winter months, when capping of a blowout and recovery of the oil are deemed to be virtually impossible. A scenario is given of the release of 67,000 tonnes of oil.
During experiments conducted in Balaena Bay on the Beaufort Sea coast, confined quantities of oil were released under ice, and this led to an understanding of the mechanism by which oil seeps through ― or is trapped beneath ― the ice. Trial burns of oil generated voluminous quantities of sooty black smoke and tarry residue that represented 10%−60% of the volume of oil available for burning. Ignition of the oil required priming with gasoline, and as many as six burns were needed over 20 days to effect reasonably complete disposal of the oil.
What can be done with oil that is recovered, be it from ice, sea surface, or different types of shoreline? In the Beaufort Sea area at least, there is no land on which the oily materials can be dumped without very extensive civil-engineering work, and ongoing care would be required.
2.5 Oil, Ice and Climate Change

The following statement from this book, that links how ice and spilled-oil relate to climate change, underscores the reality of exploiting offshore petroleum resources in northern ocean waters covered intermittently by ice on an annual cycle: If a major oil discovery is made in the Beaufort Sea, it will not be a question of whether there will be oil spilled … but of how much.

According to the book, credible estimates of potential major oil spills range from 50,000 to 1.5 million barrels. These larger leaks may continue for months because of seasonal freeze-up and typical weather conditions in the region slowing the arrival and deployment of remediation equipment, manpower, and material. Lesser releases are considered to be an inevitable consequence of drilling for and pumping, storing, and transporting crude oil found in Arctic waters. Sources of these spills include accidental ship discharges, tanker-compartment ruptures, storage-tank breaches, pipeline leaks, and subsea well blowouts.
A factor that complicates the cleanup of spills from which oil spreads under the ice for a period of time is the movement of the Beaufort Gyre ice pack. The ice covering the Arctic Ocean is not fixed in place, but moves in response to ocean currents and wind speeds of 1−9 km per day (the annual average is 3 km/day at the edge of the Beaufort Gyre, where drilling is expected to take place). This transport mechanism will greatly expand the area affected by an under-ice oil slick. As the oil (and possibly co-located natural gas) is lighter than water, it will spread a thin layer (8−9 mm deep) over a wide area under smooth, flat ice. If the ice is less regular, domes of oil will collect under higher spots. Sea ice is somewhat porous, so the oil will wick upward and eventually reach the surface.
As ice and snow are highly reflective of light, whereas oil is much less so, the albedo (degree of reflectivity) will be degraded by oil. This will increase the melting of the ice, owing to greater heat absorption by the oil, which will in turn melt the surrounding ice and snow. The open water thus produced also has a lower albedo

than ice and snow, which will further increase heat gain and ice-pack melt. The book postulates that the warming effect of summer sunlight on the spilled oil could result in an ice-melt area up to 10 times the size of

the actual spread of the spill. Albedo can also be degraded by soot produced by burning off spilled oil, or emitted from the smokestacks of drill ships, oil tankers, and service vessels. To conclude this summary, consider this text from the final chapter:

The question of whether a large inadvertent spill of oil into the Arctic Ocean could change the world’s climate is of great concern. The perceived danger is that the dark-coloured oil would melt off large areas of sea ice in summer. Although localized in its effect at first, the accident might trigger changes in a complex and perhaps unstable system which could lead to a dramatic reduction or even elimination of arctic sea ice.

  1. Review of Baffin Island Oil Spill (BIOS) Project, 1980-83

As reported on the Beaufort Regional Environmental Assessment Site ( ) “The Baffin Island Oil Spill (BIOS) Project was established to sponsor multi-disciplinary oil spill field studies in Canada’s eastern Arctic. The aim of the Project was to determine the effects of chemical dispersants on the Arctic environment and to evaluate optional shoreline protective and clean-up processes and procedures. The BIOS studies were published in Arctic (1987) available on the Arctic Institute of North America’s Arctic Science and Technology Information System website – see Arctic, Vol. 40, No 5 (1987).”
Gary Sergy, Manager of the BIOS Project, summarized this project in his Introduction to the Issue of the journal Arctic which provided a summary of the results of this project four years after the field work had been completed. “Through an approach using experimental releases of crude oil, the project participants acquired data on the short-and long-term fate and effects of crude oil stranded on an Arctic shoreline and chemically dispersed oil in the arctic near-shore environment, as well as data on the effectiveness of selected shoreline cleanup techniques. The information so gained has improved our capability of assessing the effects of oil spills threatening or contaminating Arctic coastlines. So also, it has given a better understanding of how to select countermeasures in such cases. Another result of the BIOS Project has been the compilation of a comprehensive site-specific data base that increases our knowledge about the physical, chemical and biological processes operating in common Arctic marine ecosystems.”
The papers in this issue of Arctic show a multidisciplinary approach. In the next section, short summaries will be provided of the results of the BIOS project in a number of areas.

  1. Summary Reports on the BIOS Project

    1. Overview of the BIOS project (one paper)

An overview paper on the BIOS Project was published by Environment Canada in 1986 by Gary Sergy who was the project manager for BIOS. Some of the following is based on this paper, but other material was also taken from the issue of Arctic published in the following year. The number of papers listed in the subtitles in this section, reflect the number of technical papers on each topic published in the issue of Arctic covering the results of the BIOS Project.
The participating organizations in the BIOS Project are shown on the table below:

The project was managed by a number of committees made up by members from these organizations. There were also participants from the USA, UK and Norway. It was decided that answers could only be obtained to questions related to oil spill impacts and response in the Arctic by conducting experimental oil spills in the field. As can be seen from the table above there were representatives from industry, environmental groups, government, local communities in the Arctic, and universities involved under the overall management of Environment Canada. The direct foreign funding for the project was about 25% and the rest was shared equally between Canadian oil industry and the Government.

The BIOS Project was divided into the “shoreline study” and the “nearshore study” and these were undertaken from one logistic base on the northern tip of Baffin Island. The site was selected after considerable investigation of alternative sites to enable the tests to be conducted with minimal damage to areas of high biological activity or actively used by the local population for hunting or fishing activities. The field camp was constructed for use by up to 60 people and operated from the ice cover period in May and through the open water period (about 65 days per year – late July to early October) for four years. Access was by air at a gravel airstrip built at the site. Local transport was by ATV, Zodiacs and helicopters. Tides at the site were 1 to 3 m and mid-summer mean maximum air temperature was about 7 deg C.
The two main test oil releases were conducted in two separate bays and other bays were used as controls. The spills were conducted in the first two years of the Project and in the third and fourth years sampling was continued to document the impact of the oil spills. This approach was an advance on the Beaufort Sea Project in which very little consideration had been given to monitoring of the Balaena Bay area after the spill test and cleanup experiments were completed in the first summer.
Without knowing the budget associated with this project it is hard to estimate the costs of conducting this research. However, planning began in the late 1970s and there were literally hundreds of people involved in the actual field experiments that took 4 years and then the documentation and writing of the reports continued until 1987. It is likely that this project in today’s dollars would be even greater than that of the BSP which is estimated to have cost $50 million Cdn. The funding was from a combination of government and industry and included considerable in-kind logistic support from the petroleum industry especially Petro-Canada that was operating in this part of the Canadian eastern Arctic.

    1. Physical Chemical and Biological Setting in the Oil Spill Area of Baffin Island (eight papers)

A series of pre-spill studies were conducted to provide a baseline of information on the area selected for the test spills. These studies covered geomorphology, meteorology, ice movements, bathymetry and oceanography of the region. They also studied benthic fauna for background petrogenic hydrocarbons and found little evidence of these in the area. The subtidal benthos of the site was typical of the eastern Arctic and high Arctic. The intertidal areas were found to be biologically barren while the subtidal was more biologically productive. The area was not found to support large numbers of birds or marine mammals. This background information was collected in the first year of the project.

    1. Oil Release Experiments (one paper)

Pre-spill experiments to finalize the design of the oil release equipment were conducted in the south and then the equipment was tested with dyed water at the site under conditions planned for the experimental tests.
The nearshore study scenario intended to represent an offshore oil slick contaminating a coastline during the open water season. If the oil were chemically dispersed then it would be present both at the surface and throughout the water column where it would contaminate the bottom and the intertidal region. If the oil were not treated with dispersants, it would be driven up on the beach by winds and the tidal action. A quantity of oil was used to provide a thickness of on the shoreline of 1 cm and enough dispersed oil to provide an oil concentration in the water column of 19ppm in the 10m depth offshore. This required the use of 15m3 of crude for each experiment.

    1. Chemical fate of crude oil in various systems (four papers)

With regard to the oil released August 19, 1981 without dispersants that was blown ashore by wind action, about one third did not adhere to the beach and was collected from the water surface, one third dissolved in the seawater or evaporated and one third was left on the beach within a few days of the spill. In the next two years there were a total of 18 weeks of open water and by 1983 only 30% of the oil volume remained.
With regard to the chemically dispersed oil release on Aug 27, 1981 done in another bay from a pipe near the bottom, currents moved the oil cloud into the test bay and to an adjacent bay. Oil was distributed throughout the waters of the bays and into the bottom sediments although little oil adhered to beach sediments. Oil was also found outside the bays in the adjacent Ragged Channel.

Oil levels found in the water of the test bay were found to be high compared to that in water where dispersants were applied to surface oil slicks. Benthic organisms were exposed to high levels of toxic components of the crude and the chemically dispersed oil rapidly contaminated the subtidal sediments.

    1. Biological Effects (six papers)

Benthic communities at this site contained an average of 6000 animals per m2 for a biomass of 1.4 kg. There were 250 species of animals and 60 different algae identified. Some species of clams have a life span of over 30 years so the cumulative impact of exposure to contaminants must be considered in looking at long term impacts.
The immediate impact of contact of the oil on amphipods in the test bays was to kill them although by the following year populations had recovered. Acute effects were observed on benthic animals from the dispersed oil cloud when it reached them on the bottom. Some animals were seen to recover over the two weeks following the oil release. Laboratory experiments were conducted to confirm observations on animals made in the field experiments. It was concluded that the high level of exposure rather than the accumulation of oil in the body was responsible for these observations. No changes were seen in animals in adjacent waters not exposed to high concentrations of dispersed oil. It is interesting that the BIOS studies concluded like more recent studies that the impact of crude oil components on the long term health of the benthic community was likely going to be significant especially in the areas of both bays were oil concentrations had been highest. Presumably the exposure would have been greater when the oil was finely divided by the use of dispersants. Bacterial studies showed the presence of oil degrading bacteria in the water column as well as in bottom sediments. However, it was found that the biological degradation of oil either on the beaches or in the bottom sediment did not play a significant role in the removal of oil from the environment in the two years following the oil spills.

    1. Shoreline cleanup tests (two papers)

In these studies, several cleanup approaches were applied and compared with natural self-clean processes on beaches over four years between 1980 and 1983. Plots on the beaches were oiled with both directly applied crude oil as well as with water-in-oil emulsions. The cleanup processes were started 24 hours after exposure to oil which would also allow for two tidal cycles on the beach. Plots were sampled before and after oiling over the four years of the project. A number of variations of chemical dispersant applications were tried on a variety of beach types with results dependant on the exposure of the beaches to tide and wave action. Burning of the oil on the beach did not prove to be effective. Application of commercial fertilizer to the oiled beach increased bacterial action when the sediments on the beach were fine grained but not on cobbled beaches. Conclusions about the use of dispersants under a variety of spill scenarios were postulated. In most cases, it was suggested that oiled beaches should be left for the oil to be degraded by natural processes without any attempt at mechanical or chemical cleanup being attempted unless the site included significant bird or marine mammal populations or was close to human settlements.

    1. Oil Under ice Experiments (two papers)

Primary productivity studies of under ice algae were conducted under ice in a location 3 km from the study bays discussed above. The experiments were done by under ice diving from May 14 to June 2 in 1982. In summary, the results indicated an enhancement of primary productivity when the under ice area was contaminated by crude oil. This effect of crude oil on algal activity was also reported in the BSP by Adams from experiments done under ice in 1975 in Balaena Bay. There was no conclusion as to the reason for this result whether it was due to under ice light intensity due to snow cover variations or the direct impact of carbon availability from the crude oil. There might also be trace elements from the crude oil that could enhance algal activity.
Another under ice study looked at the whole community that exists on the under ice surface to explore the impact of oil on this important base of the food chain that ultimately feeds the higher level animals such as fish and marine mammals. This study also compared the impact of exposure to both dispersed oil and pure crude oil. The same oils were used in these studies as were employed in the beach studies. Dramatic decreases in the densities of some species of copepods and polychaetes on the under ice surface were observed in the presence of dispersed oil. Such creatures are known to be killed when oil concentrations are above 2ppm. The impact depends on species and at the time of this study there was much uncertainty about the interpretation of the results since there was little known about these under ice ecosystems in their natural uncontaminated state.

  1. Russian Offshore Drilling and Oil Spill Response Planning

On a technical visit to Russia by WAA in October 2012, it was possible to travel to the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region Okrug in Western Siberia as well as to the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St Petersburg. The Yamal region is one of the primary Russian gas and oil producing regions and it requires special permission to visit this area of Russia. In Salekhard, which is the region’s capital, discussions were held with Regional government officials responsible for natural resources. Visits were also arranged with municipal leaders in several towns in the area related to energy matters and especially oil pollution issues.

The following figure is from a recent study by Russian scientists and Russian Greenpeace and WWF related to an oil spill scenario from the oil platform Prirazlomnaya operating in the Pechora Sea close to the area of Siberia that I visited last fall. See ref. 8.29.

In St Petersburg at the AARI, several presentations were made by the AARI staff and information shared regarding oil spill response technologies and the regulation of the offshore oil industry in the Arctic.

A presentation was provided on Russian Drifting Stations “North Pole” by Drs. Makshtas and Sokolov who are leading scientist and Head of High- Arctic Expeditions at AARI. An excellent overview of measurements being made from these stations was presented as well as the implications regarding climate models. I was particularly impressed by the detailed studies being made of sea ice and snow cover characteristics and their relationship to radiation transmission through the ice cover and the albedo. They are using a variety of methods to study the underside of the ice cover as well including unmanned submersibles which are equipped with spectrometers to measure the intensity and spectral distribution of solar radiation in this critical region of biological activity. They also deploy unmanned drones above the ice which can be instrumented as required and operate up to 3km in altitude and speeds up to 100kph. They are small, 1.4 m wingspan, and light, 3,5kg. They compared model predictions to actual measured data. In one slide, they compared CO2 flux between the atmosphere and ocean on two of their floating ice stations to data from Alert and Barrow. Other parameters were also discussed including atmospheric ozone measurements from the surface to the stratosphere.
Another presentation on an oil spill model for the Arctic developed by Stanovoy from the AARI was given along with the references where the work was published showing the various stages in the development and application of the model for forecasting the movement of oil spills in the Arctic from spills. The model attempts to take into consideration the complex features of sea ice including leads and hummocks etc. The topography of the lower ice surface was discussed as well as methods to measure this using sonar, drilling and underwater observations by divers. The model was used to predict the movement of oil spills by tankers. Such work is also being undertaken at NRC in Canada. Canadian work in this area done in the past at Environment Canada was mentioned in this study. The need for actual field tests using real oil was discussed with the scientists from the AARI and all agreed that such tests are needed.

  1. Review of Arctic Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response Technology (presentation by Chris Ives – RESTCo )

Responding to Oil Spills in Arctic Marine Environments - Response and Cleanup

20 minute slide/video presentation by Chris Ives, RESTCo

Does current technology guarantee the mitigation of the consequences of an arctic oil spill?

Did you know that Alaska's coastline is 44,000 miles? Baring Sea, Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

Not just Oil Exploration/Production – also shipping, transportation, and small everyday spills.

Containment Booms, Oil Skimmers, In-Situ-Burning, Chemical dispersants, Biological Action.

What are the risks of failure? Interviews with local people and responders (6 minute video).
Recent spill response examples Norway 2009, Gulf 2010, Norway 2011 (cleanup at minus 20C)

Effectiveness of Norway/Sweden methodologies used in response to a spill in Arctic conditions.

Do we know what the oil characteristics are? Can we catch it before it thickens or emulsifies?

How do weather conditions affect cleanup? Storms, wind, waves, currents, ice,day-night visibility.

Did you know that only 3 to 5% of the oil in the Gulf spill was removed by skimming, and that innovative skimming technologies have been tested at the Ohmsett Facility and have demonstrated over 90% recovery rates.
New technologies for Oil Removal/Cleanup that enable fast response + high effectiveness.

Possibility to start cleanup within 20 minutes, versus Tier 1,2,3 responses of 72 hours or more?

Logistics and speed of response are of paramount importance – oil can change/degrade rapidly

Can the new response equipment be stored close by – even incorporated on existing vessels?

This doesn't mean airlifted by helicopter or cargo planes – unless delivery can be within minutes.
Include all types of contaminant - but NO chemical dispersants, or gummy residues from burning.

This means we should include drilling fluids/muds – and onsite polluted water discharges.

Marine biologists warn that oil contamination levels of 1 ppm are toxic to fish.
Oil and Ice: The Risks of Drilling in Alaska's Arctic Ocean – ( 6 minute video overview )
Published Aug 2012 by The Center for American Progress -

As offshore oil drilling edges ever closer to becoming a reality in the Arctic Ocean, the Center for American Progress examines the region's lack of readiness in the event of a spill. The video highlights the concerns and challenges facing the Coast Guard charged with its protection, the grave doubts of the scientific community about the lack of knowledge in this area, and the perspectives of those who depend on the Arctic Ocean for their livelihood.

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