Thursday, February 04, 2016

NGOs Sound Alarm on Heavy Fuel Oil Used in Arctic Shipping

Heavy fuel oils are already banned in Antarctic waters — but not in the Arctic.

The Mudyug icebreaker, left, leads a ship named the Federal Danube as men fish in the frozen Gulf of Finland, some 25 miles west of St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (Credit: Dmitry Lovetsky / AP) Click to Enlarge.
As Arctic Council delegates convened for a three-day environmental working group meeting in Sweden on Monday, representatives of 15 NGOs released a letter calling on the Council’s eight member states to pursue a ban on heavy fuel oils in the region.

“The risks to the marine environment, the climate, and public health are too great to permit the continued use of [heavy fuel oil] in Arctic shipping,” the letter says.

Cargo shipping in the Arctic region has increased in recent years as firms take advantage of shorter routes that are usually clogged by sea ice.  Some of these ships are powered by or are transporting heavy fuel oil, which the letter asserts is a grave environmental threat to the Arctic’s delicate ecosystem.

As opposed to other fuels, such as diesel, heavy fuel oil does not evaporate when spilt.  When it mixes with seawater, it actually expands in volume.

“Coupled with its viscosity and tendencies to sink and stick to anything it comes into contact with, cleanup effort becomes insurmountable,” the letter says.  “The problem is more acute in Arctic waters because of lower species diversity as well as reduced growth and reproduction rates for its biota.  More damage can occur, more quickly and with longer lasting effects than in other climates.”

The letter also details the risks of black carbon — a soot-like particulate that forms as a byproduct of burning heavy fuel oil.  Studies have shown that black carbon may be hastening the melting of sea ice, and also contributes to the degradation of air quality.

“When a human being breathes that, it’s essentially breathing soot,” said Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director for the Clean Air Task Force and one of the letter’s signatories.  “It not only affects the lungs, but it can penetrate the deepest reaches of the lungs and enter the bloodstream and cause problems in the cardiovascular system as well.”

Approximately 4 million people live in the Arctic, and many remote communities continue to rely on traditional subsistence to survive.

Austin Ahmasuk of Kawerak, the non-profit arm of the Bering Strait Natives Association, said a spill of heavy fuel oil would have devastating effects on indigenous communities who rely on marine resources to maintain their way of life.

“Of all the spills that could occur, heavy fuel oil is a pretty significant one,” Ahmasuk said.  “It’s the most difficult one to clean up. In this part of the world, where there is so little oil spill response capability, you compound that.”

Read more at NGOs Sound Alarm on Heavy Fuel Oil Used in Arctic Shipping

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