Canada supports a global ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic

The Government of Canada is working to reduce the risk of marine fuel spills in the Arctic, including the risk of a HFO spill from ships.

Canada’s Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, announced the support for a ban on heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

The Government of Canada is working to reduce the risk of marine fuel spills in the Arctic, including the risk of a HFO spill from ships.  The ministers also announced they will be seeking a phased-in approach to the ban as Canada discusses with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) ways to help balance the environmental benefits with the economic realities of northern, Indigenous and Inuit communities. 

Transport Canada, a government department responsible for transportation policies and programs, has conducted a domestic impact assessment based on the methodology agreed upon at an IMO committee meeting in February 2019. 

HFO is a generic term for fuels with a particularly high viscosity, density, and persistence. It is created when petroleum is distilled.  In the Canadian Arctic, HFO is mainly used as fuel for vessels working in community resupply, bulk carriers serving mining projects, as well as by some larger fishing vessels.

Transport Canada found that a ban would benefit Arctic communities by reducing the environmental impacts associated with spills, including reducing risks to wildlife if they ingest oil, possible damage because oil stays in the marine environment for a long time, and harmful air emissions.  The assessment also found that HFO causes greater longer-term environmental risks compared to distillate fuels. 

However, on the other hand, a ban and the higher price of replacement fuels could have negative social and economic impacts on northern, Indigenous and Inuit communities.  There are financial and social impacts (cost of living can increase) on Indigenous and Inuit communities, because of more expensive fuels.  There are financial impacts on resource sector operations, because of more expensive alternative fuels.  And finally, possible impacts on competitiveness for current or future resource exports, including mining and grain.

Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor from Clean Arctic Alliance, a not-for-profit organization committed to a ban on HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic, said: “The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes Canada’s support for a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters, however we believe the IMO must not entertain any arguments calling for a delay or exemptions in the implementation of an Arctic ban on HFO. 

“The use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic is increasing, with a 46% increase in the volume of HFO fuel carried by ships in the Arctic between 2015 and 2017, and a 57% increase in the amount of HFO used – and this will only increase the risks of HFO spills and impacts from black carbon in the region [2]. IMO Member States, in particular Arctic governments, must cooperate on the delivery of a ban as quickly as possible.”

Kok Leong Lee

Kok Leong Lee

Kok Leong, executive editor, has overall editorial responsibility for the direction and focus of Maritime Fairtrade. He has two decades of working experiences, including holding senior regional roles in business-to-business (B2B) print and online publications. He enjoys his work as a journalist, and regards it as a calling.

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