Arctic Drillers Must Have Same-Season Relief Well Ability, Regulator Says

Canada’s National Energy Board is maintaining its policy that any oil company drilling off Canada’s Arctic coast must be able to drill a relief well in the same season to minimize environmental risks.

Canada’s energy regulator reviewed the policy after BP Plc’s Macondo well spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The report issued today affirms a rule that’s been in place for at least three decades.

There’s no offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic. Interest in drilling for oil under the Arctic Ocean has picked up as conventional reserves diminish. The region may hold 90 billion barrels of oil, more than the combined known reserves of Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Mexico, the U.S. Geological Survey said in 2008.

Neighboring Greenland has raised the number of oil and gas licenses awarded 10-fold since 2005, while other Arctic nations such as Russia, Iceland and the U.S. are looking at opportunities to exploit fossil fuels under the ice.

The U.S. in May pushed for the eight-member Arctic Council to create an oil spill response task force. The council is under pressure to take measures after the Macondo accident and signed its first internationally binding agreement earlier this year with a search-and-rescue treaty.

The Canadian regulator also set out guidelines today on dealing with waste management, pollution monitoring and spill contingency plans. The report was issued in Calgary.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy van Loon in Calgary at jvanloon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Scanlan at dscanlan@bloomberg.net

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