Science Based Governance and Regulation of Arctic Energy Installations (SciBAR)

The SciBAr research network was established in 2017 under the leadership of Professor Elizabeth Kirk (Nottingham Trent University) and Professor Tina Hunter (University of Aberdeen). Supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council Network Grant and the University of Aberdeen Principal’s Interdisciplinary Fund, the SciBAr network has organised two workshops in January and March 2018. The workshops resulted in the draft of reports on current knowledge and understanding, gaps, and regulatory responses to risks, threats, and impacts arising from offshore energy installations in the Arctic.

There are many approaches to the governance and regulation of activities in the marine environment, but they seldom rest on strong scientific understanding of the marine environment, or of the likely threats and impacts from and to the activity in question. The reasons for the somewhat limited scientific input range from a lack of, or limited, scientific data on which to base decisions (which affects almost all decisions on activities in the marine environment) to a lack of awareness of the information amongst decision makers, to scientific evidence being outweighed by, for example, political expediency (Kirk 2015; Kirk 2012). While there are bodies working to address the gaps in knowledge, such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), they face an enormous task. For example, as recently as 2010 the Food and Agriculture Organisation indicated that only 10% of the world’s fisheries were assessed, leaving a huge gap in understanding of the state of the world’s fisheries (FAO, 2010). Moreover, even if scientific understanding exists, the problem of how to ensure governance and regulatory responses are based on sound scientific evidence remains.

The need for detailed, science-based regulation rooted in sound governance systems is exemplified by the rapid rate of melting of Arctic sea ice. This brings increased opportunities for the extractive industries, and so of risks of harm: to the environment through pollution or habitat changes, and to local communities though interference with the manner in which they secure their livelihoods. The activities also carry significant risks to the industries involved.  Offshore installations could, for example, be damaged by ice, bringing significant costs to the operators through lost production and repair, and compensation for harm resulting from pollution.

There is therefore a need to model the best governance and regulatory solutions to known activities and problems in light of the relatively limited data available and to generate further data to improve regulation. This network focuses on addressing these challenges in relation to offshore energy installations in the Arctic. The focus is, in particular on the degree to which understanding from the STEM subjects must and can influence policy making to ensure sustainability of Arctic activity and evidence-based regulation.

The SciBAr Installations network draws together academics from law and other disciplines to undertake a review of the governance and regulation of threats and impacts of and to Arctic offshore energy installations. The primary focus is the degree to which understanding from science, social science and engineering can and must influence policy making to ensure the sustainability of Arctic energy activities whilst incorporating best practice regulation.