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Understanding Risks Associated with Offshore Hydrocarbon Development


Arctic sea ice is rapidly reducing due to climatic changes occurring in the region, allowing for easier access to vast amounts of undiscovered oil and gas resources. In recent years, growing interest in exploitation of Arctic hydrocarbon resources has led to an increase in exploration activity. Nevertheless, because of the Arctic’s harsh conditions, activities remain costly and are linked to serious environmental risks for vulnerable and unique Arctic ecosystems. Clean-up of potential oil spills would be highly complicated, if not impossible, and routine operational activities connected to hydrocarbon development, such as drilling or increased shipping traffic, have adverse consequences on marine flora and fauna. This chapter examines past, current, and potential future hydrocarbon activities in the Arctic, associated environmental impacts from accidents as well as normal operations, and possible cooperation between the European Union (EU) and United States (US) in mitigating the adverse environmental consequences of oil and gas development. Possibilities for transatlantic cooperation regarding hydrocarbon development in the Arctic are considered, including the use of legal and institutional frameworks to which both the EU and US have commitments.


  • European Union
  • International Energy Agency
  • Bowhead Whale
  • Arctic Council
  • Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

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Based on Koivurova T, Hossain K (2008).

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  1. 1.

    A recent study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) suggests that the Arctic Ocean will be seasonally ice-free during the summer within the next thirty to forty years (AMAP 2011).

  2. 2.

    The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced a new record low in Arctic sea ice extent in Sept 2012, following the previous minimum in summer 2007 (NSIDC 2012).

  3. 3.

    The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects in a current policies scenario, as well as in a new policies scenario (with more oil use efficiency and switching to other fuels), an absolute global primary oil use increase (e.g., reaching 107 MMb/d in 2035 in the current policies scenario, compared to 84 MMb/d in 2009), even if the share of oil in total primary energy demand is expected to decrease (IEA 2010b).

  4. 4.

    For natural gas, the IEA expects an absolute increase in demand as well as an increase in the share of total primary energy demand in all scenarios (e.g., in the current policies scenario, the share grows 1.6 % per year, attaining 4.9 tcm in 2035, compared to 3.2 tcm in 2008) (IEA 2010b).

  5. 5.

    This fear stems from the October 1973 world oil crisis, when Arab members of petroleum producing countries announced a ban on oil shipment to countries supporting Israel in the 1973 Arab–Israeli war (EIA n.d.).

  6. 6.

    Average daily production rate for Sept 2012.

  7. 7.

    Other offshore fields are extracted from land, using directional drilling technology (ADNR 2009).

  8. 8.

    Average of monthly production rates in 2011. CNSOPB. <> Accessed 5 July 2012.

  9. 9.

    Following the determination of the Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR), parts of the North Atlantic Ocean, including the Labrador Sea, belong to the Arctic marine area (Young and Einarsson 2004).

  10. 10.

    Climate change may allow for increased transport and greater access to Arctic resources (particularly fossil fuels) which would not only create potential environmental consequences, but the burning of extracted fuels to meet global energy demand would further accelerate climate change. See Koivurova T, Hossain K (2008).

  11. 11.

    Smaller, diffused spills might occur from increased transportation by ships in the Arctic (AMAP 2007).

  12. 12.

    See OSPAR Recommendation 2001/1 for the Management of Produced Water from Offshore Installations. Under this recommendation, each contracting party was to ensure that the total quantity of oil in produced water discharged into the sea in the year 2006 was reduced by a minimum of 15 % compared to the equivalent discharge in the year 2000. The means used by most of the contracting parties to achieve the goal of a 15 % reduction is the re-injection of produced water (OSPAR Commission 2007).

  13. 13.

    See, e.g., Pedersen (2012), which states that the machinery Shell planned to use for oil spill response has not yet successfully been used in Arctic waters. Wolf (2007) quotes Michael Macrander, a biologist with Shell Oil, as saying that, to date, there are no methods to clean up oil in ice-laden conditions.


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Correspondence to Gerald Zojer .

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© 2014 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

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Hossain, K., Koivurova, T., Zojer, G. (2014). Understanding Risks Associated with Offshore Hydrocarbon Development. In: Tedsen, E., Cavalieri, S., Kraemer, R. (eds) Arctic Marine Governance. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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