Plans by Arctic nations to start cooperating over oil spills are vague and fail to define corporate liability for any accidents in an icy region opening up to oil and gas exploration due to global warming, environmentalists said on Monday.
A 21-page document by the eight-nation Arctic Council, seen by Reuters and due to be approved in May, says countries in the region "shall maintain a national system for responding promptly and effectively to oil pollution incidents."
It does not say what that means in terms of staff, ships, clean-up equipment or corporate liability in a remote region that the US Geological Survey estimates has 13 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and 30 per cent of its undiscovered gas.
The countries have drafted the document as companies including Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips, Lukoil and Statoil are looking north for oil despite high costs and risks. Shell's Kulluk oil rig ran aground in Alaska on December 31 in near hurricane conditions.
"The document doesn't get to grips with the risks of a spill in a meaningful way," said Ruth Davis of Greenpeace, which passed the document to Reuters. Officials confirmed the text was genuine.
Greenpeace, which wants the Arctic to be off-limits to drilling, said it was "so vaguely written as to have very little practical value in increasing the level of preparedness."
The Arctic Council - comprising the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark including Greenland - sees cooperation as big progress for the region, where sea ice shrank to a record low in the summer of 2012, opening the area to further exploration.