WASHINGTON – Representatives from the Arctic Council participated in an EPPR MOSPA exercise workshop held September 15-17, 2015 at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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As the Chair of the Arctic Council, the U.S. is working, through coordination with all eight Arctic Council Member States, to strengthen oil spill prevention and response in the Arctic.  One of the methods utilized to enhance spill preparedness in the Arctic region is through the Arctic Council’s Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (EPPR) Working Group.  The EPPR Working Group, established in 1991, serves as one of six Working Groups of the Arctic Council to foster international co-operation on environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic. As a cooperative initiative between nations with shared maritime interests in the Arctic, the EPPR membership includes Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation, and the United States.  The appointed EPPR membership implements the Agreement, signed in 2013, on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (MOSPA).  Among many other functions, the EPPR Working Group also maintains a set of Operational Guidelines and is responsible for keeping the Guidelines up to date.

Representatives from the Arctic Council participated in an EPPR MOSPA exercise workshop held September 15-17, 2015 at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.  This workshop addressed lessons learned from the inaugural EPPR MOSPA exercise (held in Canada in 2014); discussed updates to the Operational Guidelines; identified high-risk Arctic scenarios from each member nation’s perspective; and conducted an exercise scoping session for the U.S.-led EPPR Arctic Oil Spill Response Exercise to be held in 2016.

Ole Kristian Bjerkemo, a Senior Advisor to the Norwegian Coastal Administration who participated in the workshop, confirmed the importance of the Agreement and collaboration across all Arctic member nations.  “I have been involved in the negotiation of the Agreement and the development of the Operation Guidelines.  An Agreement like this is nothing if not implemented. The 2014 Canadian exercise and the September 2015 EPPR workshop displayed successes in the implementation of the Agreement…The workshop was very well organized and provided a firm foundation for the 2016 exercise”.

Citing the importance of Arctic stakeholder coordination as well as ensuring all parties are involved in the development of common goals to ensure stewardship of the Arctic’s critical natural resources, CDR Tom Ottenwaelder, the Coast Guard’s lead EPPR representative, stated that “this workshop provided an opportunity to join together and share the challenges we may face if called to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic.  We identified common ground and plotted a course for what will be a good test of the shared Agreement.”  Moving forward, the EPPR representatives will formally establish the parameters of the 2016 exercise construct and develop a foundation to foster the strong partnerships required to ensure environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic region.

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Image: Some of the participants in the recent workshop. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.