Arctic nations' oil spill plans too vague -environmentalists

* Eight-nation Arctic Council drafts oil spill plans

* Guidelines avoid details such as corporate liability

* Greenpeace says document vague, fails to address risks

OSLO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Arctic nations' plans to start

cooperating over oil spills are vague and fail to define

companies' liability for any accidents in an icy region opening

up due to global warming, environmentalists said on Monday.

A 21-page document by the eight-nation Arctic Council, seen

by Reuters and due to be approved in May, says countries in the

region "shall maintain a national system for responding promptly

and effectively to oil pollution incidents."

It does not say what that means in terms of staff, ships,

clean-up equipment or corporate liability in a remote region

that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates has 13 percent of the

world's undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas.

The countries have drafted the document as companies

including Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips,

Lukoil and Statoil are looking north for oil despite

high costs and risks. Shell's Kulluk oil rig ran aground in

Alaska on Dec. 31 in near hurricane conditions.

"The document doesn't get to grips with the risks of a spill

in a meaningful way," said Ruth Davis of Greenpeace, which

passed the document to Reuters. Officials confirmed the text was

genuine.

Greenpeace, which wants the Arctic to be off-limits to

drilling, said it was "so vaguely written as to have very little

practical value in increasing the level of preparedness."

"We should be far beyond this rudimentary document," echoed

Rick Steiner, an environmental consultant and former professor

at the University of Alaska often critical of the oil industry.

He said the Council should put more stress on preventing spills.

The Arctic Council - comprising the United States, Russia,

Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark including

Greenland - sees cooperation as big progress for the region,

where sea ice shrank to a record low in the summer of 2012.

"There will be a lot of improvements compared to today -

quite simply by making it much easier for countries in the

Arctic to help each other when needed," said Karsten Klepsvik,

polar expert at Norway's foreign ministry until end-2012.

EMERGENCY CONTACTS

The document, for instance, sets up 24-hour emergency

contacts in the eight nations, seeks national rules to allow

quick transport of clean-up equipment across maritime borders,

better monitoring and joint training exercises.

Environment ministers from the Arctic Council will meet in

Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, on Feb. 5-6 to discuss the draft.

The Arctic document makes clear it is non-binding, except

for repayment of costs when one country helps another. It says

it is "subject to the capabilities of the parties and the

availability of relevant resources."

Global warming is making the Arctic region more accessible

to shipping, mining and oil exploration. Oil spills could be

extremely hard to clean up, perhaps trapped in or under ice that

can be carried across international boundaries by ocean currents

and winds.

In 2011, Arctic Council foreign ministers including outgoing

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed a plan for search

and rescue - a prelude to harder work on defining rules for oil

and gas.

The document says it will apply a general principle that the

polluter pays, but does not define corporate liability. Steiner

said Arctic-wide unlimited liability would make companies and

insurers more cautious.

"Greenland suggested that we should include a system of

liability in the agreement. There was no agreement on this,"

Klepsvik said. "We are a consensus body. We realised that it

would take years and years to reach a conclusion" on liability.

And he said big oil companies showed they do pay for damage.

BP Plc had paid $23 billion in costs and claims by late

2012 after its 2010 blow-out in the Gulf, the worst offshore

spill in U.S. history.

Exxon Mobil says it paid more than $4.3 billion

after the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground just south of the

Arctic in 1989, spilling more than 250,000 barrels.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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