Government of Canada funds Collaborative Research to Clean Arctic Oil Spills

Two McGill researchers developing solutions to clean marine oil spills in the Northwest Passage and in oceans surrounding Canada to receive $3.7 million in funding from the Multi-Partner Research Initiative (MPRI).
Published: 29 August 2019

Today, the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice, Attorney General of Canada and Member of Parliament for LaSalle-Émard-Verdun, announced on behalf of the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, that McGill University will receive more than $3.7 million for two research projects that will help minimize the environmental impact of oil spills. Minister Lametti also announced funding for two research projects led by Concordia University. Together, this investment will top $8.2 million and support 19 scientific trainee positions.

“With the support of the Government of Canada, McGill’s researchers will respond to the challenges of sustaining the ecological life support systems in the Arctic," said Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. "These investments ensure that we develop sound environmental policies founded on research and involving multiple stakeholders.”

McGill’s Lyle Whyte, Canada Research Chair in Polar Microbiology, and Charles Greer, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, will lead projects assessing natural microbial populations and their ability to break down oil spills. As global warming opens more shipping routes in the Northwest Passage, enabling the exploitation and transportation of offshore Arctic oil reserves, marine areas are increasingly at risk of oil spills. When spills occur, some oils will wash up on Arctic beaches.

At present, little is known about the ability of microorganisms—mainly bacteria—to break down hydrocarbons in the region. By examining the results from a controlled, in situ oil spill, Professor Whyte will explore the potential of biodegradation for the permanent removal of the oil components through the action of microorganisms in Canada’s North.

These projects will provide vital data on the optimal bioremediation treatments for hydrocarbon-contaminated Arctic beaches while also providing a policy framework for implementing remediation of such sites. Additionally, their work will help to identify regions that are at highest risk of negative impact in case of an oil spill.

“Our government recognizes the vital importance of collaboration when it comes to responding to oil spills in Canada’s marine and coastal areas”, said the Hon. David Lametti. ”By supporting multi-partner research to foster scientific knowledge and powerful response measures, we’re taking vital steps to protect our oceans for generations to come.”

These projects are part of the $45.5-million Multi-Partner Research Initiative (MPRI), announced in 2018 to encourage collaborative research among oil spill experts in Canada and abroad. These collaborative efforts will improve knowledge of how oil spills unfold, how best to contain them and clean them up, and how to minimize their environmental impact.


Cynthia Lee

McGill Media Relations Office


cynthia.lee [at]

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