The ban on marine fuel oil in the Arctic

19.05.2020

The ban on marine fuel oil in the Arctic

In February 2020, at the seventh session of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), EU members, together with the United States, submitted proposals to extend requirements of the MARPOL regulation to the Arctic. These terms prohibit the use and transportation of heavy crude oil and heavy fuel in Antarctica.

At the beginning of the discussion on this issue, the ban was justified by the need to slow down climate changes and take measures to prevent an increase in ambient temperature. Gennady Semanov, Candidate of Chemical Sciences, Head of the Laboratory of the Central Research and Development Institute of the Navy, told Morvesti newspaper whether it is the initiative justified from a scientific point of view or a policy aimed at containing the development of the Russian Arctic.

Unfortunately, the subcommittee's report and the final decision on the proposal has not yet been published, but the practice at IMO shows that if the EU and the U.S. offer something, the IMO accepts the proposal, perhaps with just a small adjustment.

In order not to make the proposal look very strict, the authors suggested taking into account the problems of the coastal Arctic countries and allowing them, under certain conditions, to postpone the enactment date of the rule by 5 years.

It should be noted that previously it was only a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel as marine fuel. The ban on its carriage as a cargo has not been discussed then. However, the document submitted by the EU and the USA also prohibits transportation of oil as cargo, which will cause significant difficulties in exporting oil from Russian Arctic fields.

The participants of the session presented the documents that proved that soot (black carbon) emitted by ship diesel engines falls on ice and accelerates its melting. This leads to an increase in the ambient temperature because ice-free water, unlike snow, absorbs solar radiation and heats up. According to the method accepted in EU, Russia have carried out mathematical modeling of the ejected soot spread, that has shown that soot mainly falls out not more than 500 km from the ship and its influence on the increase in the ambient temperature can’t exceed 0.05 0C, which is negligible. Thus, carbon black emissions can only have an impact on snow and ice melting if the ships are in ice conditions.

At the same time, all the calculations of the authors of the ban were based on shipping data in the Northwest Atlantic, which is very intense, but takes place at a distance of more than 1000 km from the ice edge, so emissions from these ships can’t have any noticeable impact on the climate. The research data have been submitted by Russia to IMO, but hadn’t convinced them. Furthermore, another argument has been put forward for the ban on heavy fuels: their spill in the Arctic will cause catastrophic irreversible damage to the environment. However, this argument, too, is highly controversial. Any major oil spill in the Arctic would be catastrophic for the spill area. However, a spill of light oil sorts is more dangerous to the marine environment than a heavy oil spill.

In general, banning the use and transportation of heavy oil sorts will not ensure the safety of the Arctic environment and is aimed at containing the development of the Russian Arctic zone. Therefore, it is necessary to object to the ban from the view of costs, but from an environmental point of view.


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