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Protecting the Arctic

Preventing and Cleaning Up Oil Spills in Arctic Waters

The basics of marine oil spill prevention and response in the U.S. Arctic

Understanding the rules that governs oil spill prevention and response is important, because oil spills are a significant threat to our ocean and coasts. Oil spills can injure or kill wildlife, foul coastlines, contaminate subsistence food sources and wreak havoc on commercial fisheries, tourism and other ocean-based economic sectors.

Oil spills can come from any number of sources: enormous ocean-going tankers, small fishing boats, oil and gas exploration or production operations, coastal oil storage facilities and others. Marine oil spills can range in size from relatively small spills to huge, catastrophic releases. And spills can happen anywhere on the ocean: far out at sea, right at the shoreline or anywhere in between.

Oil Spill Prevention

When it comes to oil spills, prevention is the name of the game. As the Primer says, “[k]eeping an oil spill from happening in the first place is far better than trying to clean one up.” With that in mind, it summarizes state and federal oil spill prevention requirements that apply to vessels, oil exploration and development operations and oil storage facilities in Arctic and western Alaska.

Unfortunately, prevention isn’t always successful. When oil does spill in the water, a multi-layer response plan kicks into effect, depending on where the oil spill occurred and what the source is. The Primer explains how federal, regional and operator-specific spill response plans and oil spill removal organizations work together.

It summarizes the requirements of those spill response plans for tank and non-tank vessels, oil exploration and development operations and oil storage facilities. And it addresses the pros and cons of various strategies that operators can use to respond to marine oil spills, including mechanical recovery (e.g., booms and skimmers), chemical dispersants and burning the oil off the surface of the water (in situ burning).

Oil Cleanup Measures

State and Federal Jurisdictions Related to Spill Prevention and Response

The Primer also explains how international, national and state-level rules interact and apply to different maritime users, including the shipping and oil and gas industries. It also explains how different government agencies enforce and carry out laws and regulations designed to keep oil out of the ocean and to respond effectively to spills when they occur.

While the Primer focuses on the role of government, it acknowledges that private sector operators can and do play a critical role. 

Oil spill response jurisdictions in Arctic waters

An Important Resource

The laws and rules governing oil spill prevention and response are not easy to understand—but the Primer can help. It packs an enormous amount of useful information into a small, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand package. It’s a terrific resource for those who want to know the basics of the current rules for marine oil spill prevention and response in the U.S. Arctic. Dive in and check it out!  

Download the PDF: Arctic Alaska: Oil Spill Response & Requirements Primer

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