MPs attack Government 'hypocrisy' over refusal to ban Arctic drilling

An influential cross-party committee of MPs accused the Government of environmental hypocrisy for refusing to push for a moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic.

Two weeks after Shell reignited concerns about the safety of Arctic exploration when its offshore Alaskan rig Kulluk ran aground, the Government rejected a call by the Environmental Audit Committee for a blanket ban on drilling around the North Pole.

Joan Walley, who chairs the committee, said: "A few years ago the Prime Minister rode with huskies in the Arctic to demonstrate his commitment on environmental issues, but now he is being asked to protect that pristine wilderness for real he has refused to take a lead on the issue."

The Arctic is seen as the next new oil frontier, with British companies such as BP, Shell and Cairn Energy keen to exploit the waters around Russia, Alaska and Greenland respectively. The 16-person committee said the Government wields significant influence in the Arctic, which it should use to push for the moratorium. It is a key member of the United Nations and one of only six countries outside the Arctic with a say in how the block is run, through its status as a permanent observer state in the Arctic Council intergovernmental forum.

In its formal response to the committee's request for a moratorium, the Government said existing measures to protect the fledging Arctic oil frontier "are more likely to be effective in protecting the Arctic environment than pressing for a complete moratorium on all drilling in the Arctic region".

The Environmental Audit Committee also revealed it will be grilling Shell executives about the Kulluk incident, which saw the rig beached near an Alaskan island on New Year's Eve after running into a storm.

"The grounding of the Kulluk rig raises serious questions about the safety of Shell's operations in the Artic and we will be calling them back into Parliament to give further evidence," Ms Walley said.

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