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20 years of the Russian-Norwegian cooperation on oil spill prevention and response in the Barents Sea

Olga Sarkova
Director of “Industrial Safety Systems”

The 28th of April 1994 is considered the beginning of the Russian-Norwegian cooperation history in the field of marine environment protection of the Barents Sea from oil spills due to the reason that on this date 20 years ago The Agreement between The Kingdom of Norway and The Russian Federation concerning Cooperation on the Combatment of Oil Pollution in the Barents Sea was signed.

At that moment there was the Cooperation Agreement between Russia and Norway in the field of environmental protection signed in 1992 which replaced similar Agreement between the USSR and Norway of 1988. Nevertheless, both Parties decided to focus on the protection of marine environment of the Barents Sea because any significant pollution in this area inevitably created the potential for adverse environmental impacts for both states.

In fact, the history of cooperation between Russia and Norway in the field of oil spill prevention in the Barents Sea started in the times of the Soviet Union. The first Soviet-Norwegian meeting that was dedicated to this issue took place in Norway in 1990 as evidenced by the historical “Protocol from the first meeting of the Norwegian-Soviet expert group on oil pollution in the Barents Sea  held in Horten, Norway from 13 to 17 February under the auspice of the joint environmental commission”.

The agenda of that first meeting included only 3 questions:

  1. to get to know each other;
  2. to familiarize each other on the national oil contingency organizations;
  3. to demonstrate technical / practical oil combating facilities.

Both parties agreed on continuing the meeting of the expert group on a regular basis, composed a plan for the future work and also decided to determine “the direct contact line” for mutual reports about the pollution as well as expressed the idea of conducting the joint exercises. Then for the first the idea of the necessity of creating a joint response plan was announced.

In September 1990 the second meeting of the Soviet-Norwegian expert group took place in Murmansk and in 1991 the first joint Russian-Norwegian exercises on oil spill prevention and response in the Barents Sea were held. According to the results of the exercises a Joint response plan regarding the cases of accidental pollution of the marine environment was developed.

Therefore, the Agreement between The Kingdom of Norway and The Russian Federation concerning Cooperation on the Combatment of Oil Pollution in the Barents Sea, signed in 1994, was the result of the joint work that began in 1990. Simultaneously with the Agreement the Joint Contingency Plan for the Combatment of Oil Pollution in the Barents Sea (The Joint Norwegian-Russian Contingency Plan for Oil Spill Response in the Barents Sea, nowadays) was signed. This plan has the status of the official document which determines the frames of cooperation between the competent national authorities of Russia and Norway who are responsible for the preparedness and response to oil spills , including arrangement and conducting of joint exercises and meetings of the expert group which has been called the Joint Planning Group since that time.

Today, 20 years later, Russia and Norway demonstrate a stable and successful example of the transnational cooperation and exchange of the professional experience in the field of protection of the marine environment of the Barents Sea from oil spills. The joint exercises and meetings of the Joint Planning Group are conducted annually. The parties exchange the professional information, carry out the analysis and assessment of the completed exercises and plan the future exercises and also keep the Joint Plan up to date. The trainers of the Norwegian Coastal Administration regularly organize courses on OSR for the Russian specialists according to the programs that are approved by the International Marine Organization (IMO). These courses take place mainly at the premises of the Northern branch of the State Marine Emergency Salvage, Rescue and Pollution Prevention Coordination Service of the Russian Federation (SMPCSA).

The worldwide experience on liquidation of the consequences of large oil spills such as the accident of the “Exxon Valdez” tanker near the coast of Alaska in 1989 gives a clear understanding that the forces and resources of the governmental competent authorities which are responsible for oil spills response are insufficient in these cases. The response to such incidents, especially in the Arctic conditions, requires the following:

  • the adoption of complex infrastructural and technical decisions by the administrative structures of different levels
  • the appliance of a wide range of competences including scientific research and development of new technologies
  • the attraction of a huge amount of human and technical resources including state and municipal, public and commercial resources and also the use of possibilities of cross-border cooperation. 

The understanding of the complexity of the tasks and challenges promote the significant extension of the traditional frames of the Russian-Norwegian cooperation. Nowadays Russia and Norway also show a good example of a large-scale cooperation in the field of environmental protection of the Arctic between the regional and municipal power authorities of the Murmansk region and the North Norway and also between public, scientific and professional commercial organizations. 

In the past decade a variety of initiatives and projects on oil spills prevention and response in the Arctic zone have been successfully implemented under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, The Norwegian Barents Secretariat and the Government of the Murmansk region. These initiatives and projects continue working today.

In August 2013 the significant Russian-Norwegian events in the field of OSR took place in Murmansk and Kirkenes. Among the participants there were the state competent OSR authorities of Russia and Norway as well as regional and municipal authorities of the Murmansk region and county Finnmark, scientific and public organizations and private professional companies that are working in the field of oil spills prevention and response. These events were initiated and organized by the Norwegian Coastal Administration in collaboration with the Northern branch of SMPCSA, private companies IS-Systems and EcoService and were supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, the Government of the Murmansk region and the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Norway in Murmansk. They included a workshop on OSR at the coastal area and the shore line cleanup, training courses for specialists in OSR in the coastal area according to the IMO program and joint exercises on oil spill response in the coastal area in Kirkenes.

Exercises near the coastal area of the Kirkenes port demonstrated for the first time, perhaps, the practical collaboration of the Norwegian and Russian state, municipal and private emergency-rescue teams on liquidation of oil spills. During these exercises highly professional competence of all the involved teams was shown, however a number of problems and questions were detected which need to be addressed and solved in case of a real accident connected with an oil spill.

In May, 2014 Murmansk received the next exercises on OSR in the coastal area. And the frames of cooperation were extended again, because a team of volunteers specially trained by the Barents office of WWF took part in the exercises and trained their theoretical knowledge in the field conditions.

To summarize the results of the two decades regarding the Russian-Norwegian cooperation in the field of oil spills prevention and response in the Barents Sea it should be certainly said that it has a significant positive economical and scientific outcome for both countries, because it mutually reinforces the resource component on OSR and develops our possibilities to find effective methods on OSR in such a specific region as  the Arctic where the traditional methods are no longer efficient and require new solutions from us.

Besides, this cooperation has a favorable social effect, as it brings positive changes related to society and questions of environmental conservation on each side of the border. By extending collaboration beyond the official state frames, we shift the focus on environmental maintenance in the Arctic from the states responsibility to the private responsibility of every person who lives here. Today under the conditions of unstable politics in the world we have to set the priorities and not lose the results of the unique experience that has been gained over the past 20 years, as well as to give a new impulse for its further development.

The future of the Arctic depends on our common position today because despite the fact that huge and productive work was done there are still many unsolved challenges. Basing on the mutual neighborly co-operation declared in The Agreement between The Kingdom of Norway and The Russian Federation concerning Cooperation on the Combatment of Oil Pollution in the Barents Sea from 1994 both our countries must develop successfully the oil and gas industry on both sides of the border and preserve our waters and shores clean and favorable for life.

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