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Government of Canada Research and Support of Heavy Oil Ban in the Arctic

Updated: May 31, 2020

The Government of Canada has shown support for efforts to ban the use of heavy oil in the Arctic through collaboration with the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the International Maritime Organization (1). The goal of this collaboration is to determine methods to maintain a balance between increasing the economic intake of marine shipping while decreasing potential negative impacts on the environment (1). The members of the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response worked to determine an effective way to reduce the presence of heavy oil in the Arctic, both as a fuel source or simply being transported via ships (2). In terms of specific aspects of focus in the ban, the Sub-Committee considered potential impacts to infrastructure, ship operations, and preparedness for potential spills (3).

Heavy oil is able to readily remain in an environment due to its low evaporation rate, thus leading to long-term damage from, for instance, oil spills (1). Since heavy oil is able to easily remain in an environment, it poses major risks to marine animals and vegetation, and can contaminate water that could be used by Inuit communities (4). Heavy oil is more commonly used as a bulk fuel source by cargo ships and mining groups (1). In order to protect our Arctic environment from these potential risks, the Government of Canada plans to reduce the use of heavy oil as a fuel source, leading to an eventual ban of heavy oil in the Arctic (5).

Transport Canada is discussing the necessity of heavy oil use with Inuit and other Indigenous groups, representatives of different industries and environmental groups, as well as members of different levels of government in order to figure out how to appropriately phase out heavy oil use in the Arctic (1). The Government of Canada actively sought out the opinions of various affected groups via an open questioning period allowing for the sharing of ideas by Canadians who would actually be affected by a potential heavy oil ban (2). With questions covering topics such as the necessity of a heavy oil ban, and looking for suggestions of other ways to handle these circumstances, the Government of Canada is actively seeking input from a variety of sources (2).

The Government of Canada completed a thorough assessment of the potential benefits and detriments should they proceed with a heavy oil ban in the Arctic (4). You can access their report here if you would like to read a fully detailed prediction of potential impacts. The Government of Canada will be bringing the results of this report, as well as their support of a heavy oil ban, to a meeting with the International Maritime Organization in February 2020, so we could potentially see a heavy oil ban being implemented in the Arctic soon (6).


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