UK's coalition government failing to protect Arctic from drilling: MPs

The coalition government has failed to protect the Arctic from oil and gas drilling, by letting new projects come up with scant scrutiny of their potential risks, the UK's parliamentary green watchdog Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has warned. The MPs have called for a moratorium on Arctic drilling, which has been rejected by the coalition. They have also called on David Cameron to revisit the Arctic, where early in his leadership of the opposition he famously was photographed with huskie dogs.

MPs on the influential environmental audit select committee accused ministers of "complacency" and warned that companies taking up drilling in the region could not guarantee their ability to clean up an oil spill without it causing drastic damage to a pristine landscape. They have pointed to a lack of oil spill response mechanisms that had been proven to be effective in the harsh conditions of the Arctic, where freezing temperatures could make oil stickier and harder to clean. Further adverse weather could prevent crews from making it to affected areas for months at a time.

They cite the Kulluk incident at the beginning of this year, in which a Shell vessel ran aground in Alaska, although there had been no spillage, with the vessel being moved to safety. A critical report by the US government found at the time safety procedures at Shell were not up to scratch. The company was also not properly geared for potential accidents in the region.

According to Labour MP Joan Walley, who chairs the EAC, the prime minister had fallen well short of his environmental pledges.

She said Cameron needed to visit the Arctic again to see the huge changes that had taken place since he was last there and to renew his commitment to protecting the region.

She added, what happened in the Arctic would affect the UK, impacting its weather systems and biodiversity. She said, the government was, however, complacently standing by and watching new oil and gas drilling in the region.

According to Walley, exploring for hydrocarbons in the pristine Arctic region in addition to being disastrous for the environment, represented a ''needlessly risky'' venture in the event of an oil spill.

This was because the world already had more proven oil and gas reserves than could be burnt without exceeding a global average temperature rise of 2C, the level beyond which, according to most scientists, the fallout from global warming would escalate rapidly.