RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES HOLD JOINT EXERCISES TO RESPOND TO OIL SPILLS IN THE BERING STRAIT
The Bering Strait is a globally significant eco-system. It is here that the highest density of biodiversity in the Arctic is recorded. The bird colonies number several millions of birds, tens of thousands of whales migrate through the strait, such as great polar and grey whales, and there are numerous Pacific walrus grounds on both sides of the strait.
At the same tie, the strait today is a zone of active marine traffic development. Thus, the supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Arctic zone of Russia have been growing. According to the May decrees of the Russian President, by 2024 it is expected to increase the cargo traffic in the Northern Sea Route to 80 million tons.
So, the risks of collisions, grounding, and as a result emergency spills of oil products, grow. The specifics of the northern climate only make it worse. Oil spills here can cause huge and long-term environmental damage. Thus, the Alaska eco-systems, that suffered from the oil spill in 1989, have not yet recovered completely. Liquidating the consequences of such emergencies is very difficult in the Arctic conditions. Moreover, the Russian and American Arctic regions do not have the adequate infrastructure for prompt response, and in the Bering Strait zone there is no such infrastructure at all. In case of emergency oil spills here, the pollution may have a cross-border effect.
One of the readily available tools to improve the efficiency of response to marine pollution is ERMA. The platform was developed in 2007 and proved effective in the liquidation of a number of spills, for example in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. This tool was created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) together with the University of New Hampshire. NOAA adapted ERMA to the Arctic. So, there appeared a real opportunity to use this tool under the U.S.–Russia Oil Spill Prevention and Response Agreement. "We are happy that despite the current complicated relations between the United States and Russia, the aim to mitigate the environmental risks in the Bering Strait zone remain a priority for both countries," said Alexey Knizhnikov, Head of the Environmental Policy in the Fuel and Energy Sector at WWF Russia.
The American experts also pointed out the importance and efficiency of joint work. Douglas Helton, Regional Operations Supervisor at NOAA, thanked the organizers in the name of the Administration for the opportunity to visit Sakhalin and to take part in the discussions on the U.S.–Russia preparedness to respond to emergencies. "The involvement of both countries and the understanding of response approaches will help us to cooperate in case of a cross-border oil spill," commented Helton. "Exchanging the information regarding the response plans, data and tools, including NOAA's oil slick modelling, will help both countries to promptly respond to spills if they happen in this cross-border region."
"We appreciate that ERMA is not only being actively discussed by experts, but has already become an element of staff exercises of the Marine Rescue Service of Russia and the United States Coast Guard that were also conducted this week in Sakhalin," said Alexey Knizhnikov.
Implementing the system in the Bering Strait will become the world's first attempt to use the platform in trans-border space. "The desire to make the unique ecological system of the Bering Strait safe consolidated the interests of the two countries. We are very pleased to know that environmental public organizations also make their contributions to this process," noted the expert.
Photo in the caption and in the announcement: (c) Alexey Knizhnikov / WWF Russia.