Cairn Energy PLC was unprepared for Greenland offshore oil spill

greenland-flagA recent report of Cairn Energy PLC’s offshore oil drilling and exploration programme off the shores of western Greenland said the company greatly underestimated how much oil would flow into the waters during a severe oil spill.

The third party technical review, which Oceans North Canada and Inuit Circumpolar Council-Greenland commissioned in 2012 and released last week, also said more participation from the public and stronger independent scrutiny were necessary during the offshore drilling regulatory process.

ICC-Greenland said in the report’s introduction, “Although the technical review showed that indeed some best practices were followed, there are still an overall need for strengthening the procedures and practices.”

Cairn Energy PLC halted the two-year oil exploration drilling programme in 2011 after failing to find any significant commercial gas or oil deposits in western Greenland’s waters. ICC-Greenland said this pause provided an opportunity to properly analyse the programme’s planning and execution, as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

The report’s conclusion said one of the programme’s greatest weaknesses was its 2011 prevention and contingency plan in terms of oil spills, saying Cairn Energy PLC significantly underestimated the amount of oil which would flow into western Greenland’s marine environment after a serious oil spill.

The report also compared the Cairn Energy PLC programme to similar projects in other Arctic regions, saying third party participation during the environmental impact assessment process is especially important.

“When it comes to reducing the risk of environmental damage caused by offshore drilling, a more transparent process can only result in stronger protection of our marine environment,” ICC-Greenland said.

ICC-Greenland also said they were frustrated by the lack of information provided to them during the Cairn Energy PLC programme. Much of this unavailable information can now be found in the report.

In a recent Sermitsiaq AG newspaper interview, Greenland natural resources minister Jens-Erik Kirkegaard defended Cairn Energy PLC by saying, “Cairn Energy had a response that was larger than the worst-case scenario they had described. Aircraft and ships were ready to intervene if the worst should happen.”

Kirkegaard did, however, welcome ICC-Greenland’s attempts to better prevent and prepare for severe oil spills. “You can always make things better, and so do we, among other things by working together with associations and organizations and talk about how we can make things better. We are a small people, and we need all the strength to make things even better,” Kirkegaard said during the Sermitsiaq AG newspaper interview.

ICC-Greenland has agreed to meet with Greenland’s home rule government to discuss environmental issues on a regular basis. Kirkegaard has also promised more open public discussions in the future.

The full “Project Review: Cairn Energy’s 2011 Offshore Drilling in West Greenland” report is now available online. Report author Susan Harvey has been a petroleum and environmental engineer for over 25 years of experience.