Danish environmental authorities are demanding that Edinburgh-based oil company Cairn Energy stop using a hazardous substance in its oil exploration off the Greeenlandic west coast after revelations that it was releasing high levels of the substance.
Cairn, according to a report obtained by Greenpeace and Politiken newspaper, released over 160 tonnes of a chemical called Ultrahib during 2010 and 2011operations, when it drilled a limited number of test wells.
By comparison fully-operational oil platforms in both the Danish and Norwegian sectors of the North Seas emitted a combined total of 30 tonnes of all red-listed chemicals in 2009.
Although not toxic or harmful to fish, Ultrahib, a lubricating drilling fluid, is red-listed by European authorities because it breaks down slowly in the environment.
Red-listed chemicals, according to EU guidelines, should be used sparingly. Only black-listed chemicals may not be used at all.
In 2011 national environmental research agency Danmarks Miljøundersøgelser (DMU) approved a decision by the Greenlandic Self-Rule authority to allow Cairn to use the chemical because it found there was no safer alternative. But in its report, DMU described the level of the release as “unacceptable” and “in violation of international resolutions”.
"The problem is that we do not know what the long term effects might be in the case of these slowly degradable substances that could accumulate in the environment," David Boertmann, a senior DMU scientist and an expert in the Arctic environment, told Politiken.
Cairn is currently the most active company in the search for the 40 billion barrels of oil Greenland is estimated to be sitting on. Other companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron, have all been granted permission to drill for oil, but are not expected to begin exploring until this year.
Responding to the Danish demands, Cairn officials said they were committed to getting their house in order.
“We will develop a new plan that meets all the requirements of the Greenland Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum and the DMU," Linda Bain, Cairn’s head of corporate affairs, told Politiken.