The increased focus on potential exploration of Arctic offshore oil and gas and shipping this summer is made evident by a busy month of June for the Emergency Prevention Preparedness and Response working group (EPPR). On 5-7 June 2012, a workshop was held in Kirkenes, Arctic Norway, where the participants had the opportunity to observe the annual Russian - Norwegian Exercise Barents.

The workshop was organized in the context of the Russian – Norwegian Arctic Council project, Development of Safety Systems in the Arctic. The objective is to share information and knowledge on Search and Rescue (SAR), Oil Pollution Prevention and Oil Spill Response (OSR).

Search and Rescue and Oil Spill Prevention

Debates focused on the SAR agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council, the Norwegian and Russian SAR organization and their respective available resources in northern areas. The SAR scenario of Exercise Barents 2012 was presented followed by discussions of the lessons learned from many years of bilateral exercises.

Oil Spill Prevention considerations were highlighted with presentations on the recent developments of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Polar Code as well as trends in international shipping incidents with relation to the future of Arctic shipping. Many related risk analysis projects were on the agenda, for instance the Barents 2020BE-AWARE (Greater North Sea) and BRISK (Baltic Sea) in addition to the EPPR Prevention to Arctic Oil Spill project.

Exercise Barents 2012

The workshop participants were given the opportunity to observe the Exercise Barents 2012 which took place at the border area between Russia and Norway. The exercise included Norwegian and Russian SAR and OSR units. The two Barents Sea neighbors practiced the cooperation between Murmansk Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC Murmansk), the Norwegian Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Bodø (JRCC North Norway) and the Norwegian Coastal Administration among other governmental bodies.

The exercise scenario included traditional episodes like life-saving and oil spill recovery. The Barents exercise is held on an annual basis in accordance with the 1995 agreement between the Russian Government and the Norwegian Government on cooperation in search and rescue of people suffering distress in the Barents Sea and the 1994 Agreement on Oil Spill Response in the Barents Sea. The exercise is directed on a rotational basis by representatives of Russian and Norwegian SAR and OSR services. This year's exercise was led by Merete Jeppesen, from JRCC North Norway.

Participants not directly involved in the exercise were divided into two groups. Some sailed offshore to observe the part of the exercise on the sea, while others navigated along the coast to the Russian border to observe the beach cleaning part of the exercise. This was the first time Norwegian and Russian responders worked together on beach cleaning. Furthermore, a visit to the Vardø Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) of the Norwegian Coastal Administration was included.

Oil Spill Response

The next day, EPPR workshop programme included presentations of ExxonMobil’ Joint Industry Program (JIP) concerning Arctic OSR technology and ENI’ OSR plan regarding the Goliat oil field. Russian and Norwegian governmental OSR capabilities as well as the various bilateral and multilateral agreements on OSR were reviewed.

Outcomes and the way forward

The outcome of the workshop will feed two important ongoing Arctic Council activities wherein EPPR plays an important role. On 11-12 June, the working group held a workshop on Recommended Practices Prevention oil Pollution (RP3) in Iceland. The RP3 Project will provide a compilation of baseline information regarding current prevention knowledge and practices that can be used to recommend and pursue enhanced prevention for Arctic waters.

The Oil Spill Task Force will hold a meeting on 18-22 June in Helsinki, Finland to develop an international instrument on Arctic marine oil pollution preparedness and response. The EPPR working group also held a meeting 13-14 June in Keflavik, Iceland.

Photos from the EPPR Workshop in Kirkenes 5-7 June 2012

Photo: Lev Levit, Arctic Council Secretariat. Offshore oil spill response exercise (Exercise Barents 2012).