2017 June 29 14:06

New Ocean Conservancy Report identifies heavy fuel oil as a significant risk to Arctic

A new report released today by Ocean Conservancy identifies heavy fuel oil (HFO) as one of the top threats to a changing Arctic as a result of vessel activity. The report, Navigating the North, comes days before the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee holds a meeting in London on July 3rd. Meeting attendees will consider measures to reduce the use of HFO in Arctic waters.

Widely recognized as the world’s dirtiest fuel, HFO is already banned in Antarctic waters. Ocean Conservancy’s Sarah Bobbe, lead author of Navigating the North, will attend next week’s International Maritime Organization meeting and will urge the United States and other Arctic nations to phase out the use of HFO in Arctic waters.

"An HFO spill is an enormous threat to the Arctic marine environment,” said Bobbe. “It is extremely difficult fuel to clean up and can persist in the environment for decades. Burning HFO in ship engines also produces high levels of harmful black carbon, which contributes to the rapid warming of the Arctic region. The International Maritime Organization has an opportunity to take action at next week’s meeting that will prevent a catastrophic spill in the Arctic. Ocean Conservancy urges the United States and other Arctic nations to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.”

In addition to considering a phase-out of the use of HFO, the International Maritime Organization meeting will address other vessel-related threats to the Arctic environment, including the avoidance of marine mammals in Arctic waters, greenhouse gas emissions, and ballast water-related invasive species risk. The Arctic is a region of special concern because it is widely expected to experience a significant increase in vessel traffic.

“Less Arctic sea ice means more vessel traffic in the region, and with that comes increased risk of accidents that harm the Arctic environment and the people who depend on it for their food security and livelihood,” said Bobbe. “Over the next decade, vessel traffic through the narrow Bering Strait may increase five-fold from 2013 levels.” Navigating the North outlines recommendations to reduce a range of vessel-related risks in the Arctic, including oil spills, invasive species, air pollution, marine mammal strikes, underwater noise, and discharges of sewage and graywater.