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VLS Unveils Fifth White Paper on Arctic Oil and Gas Development

March 30, 2011

Image of Arctic ice

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- As the Arctic warms and pressure grows to exploit seabed natural resources at the top of the world, Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) has released the fifth installment in its White Paper series titled "Implementing the Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines." The fifth paper was commissioned by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) for presentation at the Inuit Leaders' Summit on Resource Development in Ottawa in February.

The White Paper series was launched last fall with a study of U.S. and Canadian laws and regulations at the time of the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, and suggests how both countries can use the Arctic Guidelines to more effectively regulate offshore hydrocarbon development in the western Arctic. Based on that study, the ICC approached VLS Associate Professor Betsy Baker to prepare a similar study for Greenland and the Russian Federation. The latest White Paper examines the offshore regulatory regimes in those countries, which are facing increased interest in their potentially hydrocarbon-rich Arctic offshore areas.

Baker, an expert in Arctic law and policy and a senior fellow for Oceans and Energy at IEE, was one of a handful of outside experts invited to Ottawa to speak to Inuit leaders from around the North as they sought common ground for the best approach to resource development.

The Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Guidelines are a non-binding set of recommendations and practices prepared by the Protection of the Marine Environment working group of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council was established in 1996 as an intergovernmental forum to promote cooperation among the eight Arctic States and Arctic Indigenous communities. The IEE White papers examine how each country studied reflects the recommendations contained in the Arctic Guidelines.

Image of Betsy Baker

Betsy Baker, Associate Professor, climbing the ship of the USS Healy.

"Canada and the United States are both actively reviewing their practices for regulating offshore drilling in the Arctic," Baker said. "Greenland, which recently gained self-governance, ties its new status directly to control over its own mineral resources and its new laws reflect this. Russia, too, is reexamining its relevant legislation as it courts international investment in its Arctic hydrocarbon potential. As Arctic coastal states revise and possibly move toward harmonizing their regulatory systems for this fragile and resource-rich region, the Arctic Guidelines can be used to promote even stronger national and circumpolar standards. These are urgently needed if the Arctic states want to put in place adequate protections proactively rather than responding to a disaster such as the Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon after the fact.".

An estimated 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas resources lies in the Arctic, whose melting sea ice is rapidly opening new areas to drilling, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Image of polar bear

Student contributors to the White Papers include Lisa Campion, who has commercial fishing experience in Alaska; Catherine Peterson, who grew up in an Inupiat village in Alaska; Ben Jones, who was education director for the Blueberry River First Nation in British Columbia; Keisha Sedlacek, who has interned with the Marine Mammal Commission; Roma Sidortsov, a Russian-trained lawyer in the LLM program at VLS, where he also earned his JD; and Zhen Zhang, a Global Energy Fellow at the IEE.

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations
Office: 802.831.1106, cell: 540.798.7099, jcramer@vermontlaw.edu

Read the White Paper series

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