Petroleum industry activities are increasing in the Arctic with plans in the coming decades to explore new areas and expand existing fields. Protection of the Arctic environment from harm is a key component of plans for developing petroleum resources. It requires consideration of the unique features of the Arctic environment and ecosystems as well as the understanding of different environmental regulatory and policy perspectives among Arctic nations.
The Petroleum & Environment research group carries out basic and applied research on the biological effects of petroleum operational and accidental discharges on marine fauna. We integrate our extensive expertise on Arctic biology and ecology with classic and novel ecotoxicology methods in order to determine both the short and long term risks and consequences for Arctic flora and fauna from these activities. Our team works extensively in the jurisdictional waters of Norway and Russia and maintains research cooperation with all Arctic border nations.
Arctic life is adapted to a unique set of environmental conditions, including low temperatures, limited food availability, sea ice, and extensive periods of sunlight and darkness. A central focus of the Petroleum & Environment group is how Arctic species’ adaptations influence individual, community, and ecosystem responses to petroleum discharges. The group performs experimental studies under Arctic conditions working with individual petroleum compounds, produced water, fresh and weathered crude oil and chemical dispersants to simulate both acute and chronic exposure events. Studies are performed to evaluate the mechanisms and kinetics of uptake and depuration processes leading to bioaccumulation and to test and further develop indicators of effects for routine use in the Arctic.
Companies operating in northern areas face special challenges when developing contingency plans for actions to be taken in the event of an accidental discharge during operations. These plans require predictions of the type and severity of damage to local fauna and flora with and without the use of remediation measures. The Petroleum & Environment group works with the industry to identify potential risks and perform experimental studies to assess the type and severity of any potential impacts to fauna and flora resulting of accident scenarios. These range from single-species toxicity tests, to mesocosm studies, to modeling approaches to evaluate impacts on the whole ecosystem.
Risk assessment approaches are used to evaluate and manage the potential impacts associated with petroleum activities. The Petroleum and Environment group engages in research to adapt and improve risk assessment methods used in other regions of the world to industry operations under Arctic conditions. Determining the toxic effects of petroleum components for Arctic biota is a central focus of this research. The group is also studying ways to improve current methods for environmental monitoring, including the development of clams as real-time sensors of environmental stressors.