Denmark calls for Cairn to reduce Greenland drill chemicals

Danish environmental bodies are demanding that oil exploration firm Cairn Energy reduces its use of a hazardous substance used in drilling off the Greenlandic coast, after documents revealed it is releasing excessive amounts into the sea.

According to a report seen by Greenpeace and Politiken newspaper, the Edinburgh-based company used more than 160 tonnes of Ultrahib when drilling test wells in Greenland waters between 2010 and 2011. This compares to just 30 tonnes of all similar substances used in 2009 on fully operational North Sea oil platforms controlled by both Denmark and Norway combined.

Unlike black-listed substances, which cannot be used at all as they are toxic to marine life, the lubricating drilling fuel is red-listed as it breaks down very slowly in the environment. EU guidelines state that red-listed chemicals should be used sparingly, and although Denmark’s research agency Danmarks Miljøundersøgelser (DMU) said Cairn could use Ultrahib in 2011, its latest report calls the level of release “in violation of international resolutions” and “unacceptable”.

“The problem is that we do not know what the long term effects might be in the case of these slowly degradable substances that could accumulate in the environment,” David Boertmann, a senior DMU scientist and an expert in the Arctic environment, told Politiken.

Linda Bain, Cairn’s head of corporate affairs, said, “We will develop a new plan that meets all the requirements of the Greenland Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum and the DMU.”