Oil spills in the Arctic marine ecosystem happen far too often and cause a lot of damage to the environment.
In order to prevent future oil spills, the International Maritime Organization has taken action and drafted a regulation that is going to ban ships from carrying or using heavy fuel oil in the Arctic Ocean.
Hopes for a heavy fuel oil ban in the Arctic
After extensive negotiations, a subcommittee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was able to draft and present a highly important ban that holds the power to protect the Arctic ocean’s ecosystem.
For years, organizations such as the Ocean Conservancy have worked hard to create such a ban, in order to protect the so vulnerable Arctic Ocean from the devastating effects of oils spills. Soon, such a ban could become a reality! If adopted, the ban would take effect in July 2024.
The IMO i still trying to close some loopholes that the current draft includes, such as exceptions for ships with double hulls or protected fuel tanks. In order to make the ban as effective and perfect as possible, the IMO needs this time between now and 2024 and a lot of negotiating remains to be done.
The parties involved show however high confidence for a successful implementation of the ban. The IMO also encourages ship owners to exchange heavy fuel oil for cleaner fuels. This willingness and support for the ship owners hopefully contributes to more commitment and a faster implementation of the ban.
Far too often, oil spills have shown their destructive potential in the past. People have learned from these environmental catastrophes, as ships using and carrying heavy fuel oils are already banned in the Antarctica.
Hence, banning HFO in other regions of the world and in other oceans should not be an impossibility. And when it comes to the Arctic, this important because of several reasons.
Firstly, due to its icebergs and a general lack of infrastructure, the Arctic is not as easy to clean up. It’s very difficult to attempt to recover spilled oil in such an environment. HFO especially is known for persisting in an environment much longer than other fuels, which increases the environmental impact drastically, if it is allowed to stay around.
Secondly, heavy fuel oil possesses and emits a higher concentration of black carbon, which contributes to the Arctic’s rapid warming.
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What is heavy fuel oil made of?
Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is a residual fuel that is a rest product that is incurred when distilling crude oil. In other words, heavy fuel oil is crude oil stripped of all the valuable components it possesses. It is of a much lesser quality and holds much less energy than refined crude oil, which is why large amounts of HFO is used to fuel engines. It is however a very cheap oil resource.
It is a black, tar-like substance that is very heavy and dirty. It is made of a large percentage of heavy molecules such as long-chain hydrocarbons and aromatics. HFO is also made up of up to 3.5% sulfur.
What is heavy fuel oil used for?
Mostly, it is actually used in marine vessels, which in itself makes it a potential candidate for oil spills in the ocean. Most of the world’s low- and medium speed marine ship engines run on heavy fuel oil, a.k.a. diesel.
On land, some old school locomotives still run on heavy fuel oil, even though they are a dying breed.
Finally, power plants that are oil-fired also use HFO in order to produce energy. Today, only 3% of the world’s energy is coming from such power plants, which can partially be explained by their immense environmental impact.
So, if we can move away from dirty oil usage, we should also be able to do it offshore!
What are oil spills in the ocean caused by?
Oil spills in the ocean are usually caused by three types of events:
- Spillage from drilling for oil
- Transporter ship accidents
- Oil pipeline leaks
How can we stop oil spills for good?
Be it in the Arctic or any other ocean, oil spills are always extremely bad for the environment and have long-lasting effects on the ecosystem. As long as we are using fossil fuels, such as crude and heavy fuel oil, for our transportation, oil spills will keep occurring. The human factor and the effects of a changing climate contribute to this fact.
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Hence, the only logical conclusion and the only way to prevent oil spills from happening is to end our dependency on fossil fuels for good! All Good Newz wants to thank the International Maritime Organization for this ban and for their tireless efforts to make our oceans safer and cleaner and for making shipping in the Arctic as safe and environmentally friendly as possible.