(NYT) The Arctic Council agreed on Wednesday to expand to include six new nations, including China, as observer states, as a changing climate opens the Arctic to increasing economic and political competition.
The inclusion of observer states to the council came after a spirited debate at its biennial meeting and reflected the growing prominence of the issues facing the region. The council is made up of the eight Arctic nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
With the Arctic ice melting, the region’s abundant supplies of oil, gas and minerals have become newly accessible, as have shortened shipping routes and open water for commercial fishing, setting off a global competition for influence and economic opportunities far beyond the nations that border the Arctic. … the other nations granted observer status to the Arctic Council were India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
… The Northern Sea Route, once largely a wish, has become increasingly viable during longer stretches of the summer, allowing ships traveling from Asia to Europe to traverse the Arctic in far less time than they would on the traditional route through the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.
In 2010, only four ships carrying 111,000 tons of cargo made the northern passage; by last year, 46 did, carrying 1.26 million tons. Among those was China’s first ship through the Arctic, an icebreaker called Xuelong, or Snow Dragon. More (15 May)
Russia oil and gas: On the cutting edge
(Economist Intelligence Unit) Despite the many risks it holds, the Yamal Peninsula [in Russia’s far-flung Arctic north-west] will be the site of the biggest development of Arctic oil and gas this decade.
Gazprom Abandons Arctic Gas Project For Now
(AFP) Russian energy giant Gazprom is giving up development of the Shtokman natural gas field under the arctic Barents Sea until new technology makes the project viable.
The Business of Arctic Development: East Asian Economic Interests in the Far North
(Asia Pacific Foundation) The newest set of Arctic promoters come from Asia and their engagement in the region has revitalized interest in Arctic development as well as in the existing governance mechanisms. Canada has been quite passive about East Asia’s commercial interests in the Arctic, an approach that underestimates the constructive, long-term role that China, Japan and Korea can and likely will play in the Far North. This piece argues that the current state of Arctic development is both exaggerated, particularly with regard to oil and gas development and Arctic navigation, and underestimated in terms of the long-term potential of the region.
New strategy needed to cope with Arctic environmental changes: report
(Planet Ark) With the warming U.S. Arctic region poised for greater oil and mining development, the White House needs to develop a national strategy that can take environmental decisions on a larger scale, a report issued Thursday concluded.
The study recommends greater coordination between federal, state and local agencies to better manage resources in Alaska, said the U.S. Department of Interior’s Alaska Interagency Working Group in its report that was presented to President Barack Obama. …
The study’s release follows a trouble-plagued offshore Arctic drilling season conducted by Royal Dutch Shell, and comes as several other energy, mining and shipping companies are poised to do business in the region.
The report urged regulators to work jointly on environmental reviews of projects instead of considering each proposal in isolation, and to identify special ecological and cultural areas that might need protection from an expected rush of companies seeking to extract oil, minerals and other Arctic resources.
Such an intensive approach to environmental management is needed because of profound changes as the Arctic warms and atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulates in the Arctic Ocean, making the frigid waters more acidic and imperiling shellfish and other marine life.
Oslo summit asks: is melting Arctic sea ice a boon or a bane?
‘There is no question of the Arctic region being conserved as a giant wilderness’
(The Hindu) With India applying for observer status on the intergovernmental Arctic Council, along with China and other countries, the melting sea ice and its consequences, mainly in terms of opportunities for exploration of natural resources in the Arctic region, is a crucial debate.
At the first Arctic Summit organised by The Economist in Oslo on Tuesday, though India was not represented, climate change issues figured as much as the region’s undiscovered natural resources, which many countries and oil companies are eyeing.
… Speakers also differed on the need to conserve the Arctic as a unique ecosystem or open it up for exploration. Environmentalists called for better regulation and first studying possible impacts on the region before jumping in.
Editor’s note: The Arctic Council: Is There a Case for India?
India’s engagement in the Arctic dates back to nearly nine decades when it signed the ‘Treaty between Norway, the United States of America, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland and the British overseas Dominions and Sweden concerning Spitsbergen’ on February 9, 1920 in Paris which entered into force on August 14,1925. The Treaty is also referred to as the ‘Treaty concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen’ or the ‘Svalbard Treaty’. At that time, India was part of the British overseas dominions and The Right Honourable the Earl of Derby, K.G., G.C.V.O., C.B., Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom had signed the treaty at Paris.
India has watched with interest the evolving climate change induced developments in the Arctic region. On July 30, 2007, India established a scientific research station Himadri at Ny Alesund which conducts its operations under the guidance of the National Centre forAntarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. So far India has undertaken seven expeditions to the Arctic.
Arctic future-reconciling global, national and community interests
The resource-rich Arctic is changing faster than anywhere on Earth, and its biggest transformation is just ahead. Due to climate change, the polar ice cap is shrinking and floating summer ice is projected to disappear altogether, setting alarm bells ringing for environmentalists, but opening up new perspectives for trade and development.
At The Economist’s Arctic Summit we will be discussing big issues concerning the region: chase for natural resources, impact of climate change, emergence of new trading routes and the need for responsible governance.
The summit has been designed to focus attention and to promote constructive thinking prior to the next Arctic Council Ministers’ meeting in 2013.
A high-level group of 150 policy-makers, CEOs and influential commentators will spend a day tackling the issues at the heart of the Arctic’s future, in discussions led by James Astill, environment editor of The Economist and author of the special report on the Arctic.
Eye on the Arctic – Preparing for environmental accidents in the Arctic
(RCI) Greenpeace’s leak of the Arctic Council’s draft plan on oil spill response was one of the Arctic stories that dominated headlines this week.
The agreement, titled “Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response” outlined measures for dealing with an oil spill. Greenpeace called the agreement “effectively useless” saying it was vague and lacked enforcement mechanisms.
The controversy highlighted the ongoing tension between development and environmental protection in the Arctic.
Asian countries crashing party in melting Arctic
Ice melt in the Arctic has lead to the expansion of sea-trade routes, and more shipping has prompted non-Arctic countries to seek membership in the Arctic Council. The Economist (tiered subscription model) (2/2)
Another Stumble in the Quest for Arctic Oil
(HuffPost) On New Year’s Eve, a 266-foot oil drilling rig owned by the Shell Oil Company that had been adrift for days, ran aground off of Kodiak, Alaska. In response, this week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a review of the 2012 Arctic Ocean drilling season. Let’s hope this assessment is more than just a paper exercise. The Department of the Interior allowed Shell to begin its drilling season in the Arctic last year in the first place — a season that was plagued with problems from the start.
Methane: Good Gas, Bad Gas
(National Geographic | December 2012)Burn natural gas and it warms your house. But let it leak,from fracked wells or the melting Arctic, and it warms the whole planet.
Norway’s New Foreign Minister: ‘Exploitation of Arctic Resources Will Happen’
(Spiegel) September 16, 2012 was a historic date. According to the statistics of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the US, Arctic sea ice shrank to cover an area of just 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) on that day. It was the lowest coverage measured since the beginning of satellite observations in 1979 — some 760,000 square kilometers lower than the previous record minimum in 2007. The extent of the shrinkage indicates that the Arctic is changing at a breathtaking pace; a new ocean is opening up. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Norway’s new Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide talks about the politics of resource extraction in the region.
Total warns against oil drilling in Arctic
(Financial Times) Risk of spill is too high, says French oil group chief, marking first time a major has publicly spoken out against offshore exploration in region More on Planet Ark
Global rush for rare Arctic minerals
The steady melting of Arctic ice is presenting money-making opportunities for those living on the vast ice cap — as well as world powers, especially China, keen on cementing a foothold in future mining of valuable resources such as gold, gems, iron and rare earth metals. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (9/18)
The World gets green light to transit Northwest Passage
Canadian Coast Guard ready to supply assistance if needed
First Chinese ship crosses Arctic Ocean amid record melt
(Planet Ark) An icebreaker has become the first ship from China to cross the Arctic Ocean, underscoring Beijing’s growing interest in a remote region where a record thaw caused by climate change may open new trade routes. The voyage highlights how China, the world’s no.2 economy, is extending its reach to the Arctic which is rich in oil and gas and is a potential commercial shipping route between the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
DOI proposes new development, protections in Arctic
(Planet Ark) The [U.S.] Department of Interior on Monday proposed a mixture of new oil and gas development and environmental protections in a vast swathe of Arctic land.
The department said its preferred alternative for managing the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska calls for about half of the Indiana-sized land unit to be opened to oil and gas leasing. Other areas important to polar bears, seals, migratory birds and other wildlife would be protected from development.
The proposed plan was welcomed by environmental activists but drilling supporters said they were unhappy.
Celebrities back Greenpeace campaign to protect Arctic
One hundred celebrities backed a Greenpeace campaign against oil drilling and unsustainable fishing in the Arctic on Thursday, as oil giant Shell prepares to start exploratory drilling in the region.
(Planet Ark) Paul McCartney, actor Robert Redford and British entrepreneur Richard Branson were among the celebrities demanding that the uninhabited region around the North Pole be protected from pollution, the environmental group Greenpeace said.
The campaign is pushing for countries to create a U.N. resolution that would establish a global sanctuary in the Arctic region and ban oil drilling and unsustainable fishing. A similar sanctuary in Antarctica was created 20 years ago when the mining industry was banned from operating there.
Too much to fight over Arctic countries have decided to join hands and gorge on Arctic resources
(The Economist) Most of the Arctic is clearly assigned to individual countries. According to a Danish estimate, 95% of Arctic mineral resources are within agreed national boundaries. The biggest of the half-dozen remaining territorial disputes is between the United States and Canada, over whether the north-west passage is in international or Canadian waters, hardly a casus belli.
Far from violent, the development of the Arctic is likely to be uncommonly harmonious, for three related reasons. One is the profit motive. The five Arctic littoral countries, Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway, would sooner develop the resources they have than argue over those they do not have. …
Another spur to Arctic co-operation is the high cost of operating in the region. This is behind the Arctic Council’s first binding agreement, signed last year, to co-ordinate search-and-rescue efforts. Rival oil companies are also working together, on scientific research and mapping as well as on formal joint ventures.
The third reason for peace is equally important: a strong reluctance among Arctic countries to give outsiders any excuse to intervene in the region’s affairs.
Nunavut wants revenue from of resources
(RCI) The Canadian government and the eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut are opening talks on granting province-like powers to the eastern Arctic territory over its natural resources. Premier Eva Aariak says Nunavut’s economic development and our self-reliance depend on reaching an agreement to transfer land management responsibilities. The territorial government currently doesn’t collect any royalties from resources on its land. The money all flows to the federal government. Nunavut maintains that getting a share of the potential wealth from the territory’s rich deposits of gold, uranium, iron and other resources are the key to weaning itself off dependence on federal transfers. Mining companies spent more than $300 million in 2011 alone on exploration and development in the territory, which currently has one gold mine in operation and other major projects underway.
Major damage “highly likely” from Arctic drilling
Companies should think carefully about the consequences of their projected $100 billion in investment in oil projects in the Arctic, as the likely damage to the environment — not one, but several highly sensitive ecosystems — is huge, warns the world’s biggest insurer, Lloyd’s of London, the first major business to raise its voice over what it calls “a unique and hard-to-manage risk.” The Guardian (London): Arctic oil rush will ruin ecosystem, warns Lloyd’s of London (4/11)
The Great Arctic Oil Race: Northern Countries Exploit Ice-Free Arctic
(The 9 billion) The race to exploit an ice-free Arctic has just begun, with Norway and Russia springing to capitalize on new economic opportunities the untapped Northern region presents.
The Arctic has seen unprecedented sea ice melt over the past decade due to climate change, leading many Arctic-bordering countries to assert sovereignty over previously uncharted Northern territory. According to the US Geological Survey, the Arctic probably contains 90 billion barrels of oil, up to 50 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. This accounts for 30% of the world’s technically recoverable gas and 13% of its oil.
Exploitation of Arctic resources under scrutiny
(The Independent) An MPs’ inquiry into protecting the Arctic from exploitation through oil and gas drilling has been launched.
The Environmental Audit Committee will look at how climate change might open the region to new commercial activities, and what Britain can do to protect the fragile wilderness.
Denmark Says Preparing North Pole Claim
(Planet Ark|Reuters) Denmark and its self-governing dependency of Greenland plan to present a seabed claim extending to the North Pole before the end of 2014 against competing claims from other Arctic states, Danish officials said on Monday.
Ownership of the Arctic seabed has grown in importance as the shrinking of sea ice has opened new prospects for exploration and production of the region’s potentially vast oil and gas resources.
Under international law, no country now owns the North Pole or the Arctic Ocean area surrounding it.
Denmark’s claim will be presented to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), the Danish government said in a new Strategy for the Arctic.
Arctic Council examines warming, pollution
Government representatives from Arctic countries — including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — are meeting in Greenland this week to explore ways to halt rapid warming in the Arctic Circle. The council might address emissions from wood-fired cooking stoves — the signature issue of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which is working to provide tens of millions of homes with efficient, safe cookstoves by 2020. The Washington Post (5/11)
Arctic Council leaders to discuss oil development
(CBC) Concerns about offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic are expected to come up as foreign affairs ministers and top leaders from eight Arctic nations meet in Nuuk, Greenland, on Thursday
Make development sustainable, say Inuit leaders
On Wednesday, Inuit leaders issued a joint declaration on Arctic resource development that says they support offshore oil and gas exploration as long as it’s sustainable — culturally as well as environmentally — and strict safety measures are put in place.
New Estimates for Drilling Costs — The Exorbitant Dream of Arctic Oil
(Spiegel) International oil companies are racing to develop new oilfields in the Arctic. But developing the vast reserves could be far more expensive than first thought, according to new calculations by US geologists obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Arctic Iron Mine Raises Concerns Over Ship Traffic
(Reuters/Planet Ark) A truce called in a bidding war for Canada’s Baffinland Iron Mines sets the stage for an environmental battle over the Arctic project and the impact of shipping the ore through ocean ice to world markets.
BP Forms Partnership to Explore in Russia
The British oil giant BP agreed on Friday to a partnership with Rosneft, a Russian company, forming an alliance to explore the Russian Arctic
Melting of Arctic Ice Opening up New Routes to Asia
(Spiegel) The decline in the amount of ice floating on the Arctic Ocean is clearing the way for new shipping routes to Asia. Traffic was already brisk this summer. New ships are being designed to cope with icebergs during the voyage.
Is the world’s eighth ocean actually becoming a “trans-Arctic Panama Canal,” as the delighted Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson recently said? Indeed, in addition to opening up the Northern Sea Route along the Russian Arctic Coast and Siberia to the Far East, climate change is unblocking the Northwest Passage — and blazing a trail through the heart of the Canadian Arctic. In the 100 years between 1906 and 2006, only 69 ships, primarily sailed by explorers and scientists, ventured the harrowing voyage through these ice-filled waters. Last year alone, however, Canadian maritime law expert Michael Byers counted a total of 24 vessels.
Russia’s Putin says he wants peaceful division of Arctic
At a conference that included the US, Canada, Denmark, and Norway, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the area should be a ‘zone of peace.’ But Russia is bolstering its claim to a large tract of the Arctic seabed.
(CSM) Russia is staking its economic future on its controversial territorial claim to a huge slice of the fast-melting Arctic, which holds up to a quarter of the world’s untapped energy resources, and is set to launch an unprecedented diplomatic campaign to achieve its goals.
[Putin] and other Russian officials say they also expect the United Nations to approve Russia’s “scientifically grounded” claim to own a vast 1.2 million sq.-km. tract of Arctic seabed, including the North Pole, on grounds that the still largely unmapped Lomonosov Ridge, the mountain range that underlies much of the Arctic, is a natural extension of Siberia’s continental shelf.
EU-arctic relations in focus at Moscow conference
Speaking at the opening of the two-day event in the Russian capital, Lars Moller, of the Arctic Council, said he supported the European commission’s application for observer status in his organisation which brings together eight countries, including EU members – Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Battle over seabed begins as Arctic Forum gets underway in Moscow
A two-day Arctic Forum has begun in Moscow to try to prevent the North Pole becoming the latest battleground over mineral wealth
Russia, Norway Sign Border Pact, Paving Way for Oil, Gas Deals in Arctic
(Bloomberg) The two countries, which both cross the Arctic circle and share a 196-kilometer border, have been discussing their maritime territories since the early 1970s. They are vying with the U.S., Canada and others for control of resources in the Arctic, which may hold as much as 50 percent of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons, according to BP Plc. … Medvedev said the agreement opens the way for increased cooperation on the development of energy deposits in the Barents Sea and farther east on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula.
Norway, Russia reach deal to turn down heat on Arctic claims
Recent efforts by Canada and other polar nations to avoid Arctic territorial conflicts got a major boost on Wednesday with the signing of a “historic” agreement between Norway and Russia establishing a new offshore boundary in the long-contested waters of the Barents Sea.
BP Spill Seeps Into Norway’s Arctic Drilling Debate
(Planet Ark/Reuters) Norway’s decades-old political consensus on offshore drilling is under attack in the wake of the BP oil spill, just as it covets new riches in the Arctic.
The powerful oil industry says it needs to tap resources off the Arctic archipelagoes of Lofoten and Vesteraalen and in a huge, recently demarcated Barents Sea border region with Russia to continue Norway’s oil boom amid dwindling North Sea output.
But, emboldened by the Gulf of Mexico well blowout, Norwegian environmentalists seek to grab the upper hand in a battle they feel they have long been loosing.
Arctic oil drilling is set to keep growing, despite new fears
(FT) The Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico has reminded everyone of the risks of drilling in new and more challenging environments. And it has led to a suspension of plans to allow companies to begin drilling in both Alaskan and Canadian Arctic waters. Greenland, however, is not deterred; drilling in its Arctic waters commenced last week.
Richard Shelton on Arctic Exploitation
(Truthdig) Summarizing the anthropological history of the Arctic, Richard Sale, in The Scramble for the Arctic, introduces us to the demanding world of the hunter-gatherers who were also children of the northern seas and were, for millennia Homo sapiens’s only representatives in the high latitudes. Their precise origins have yet to be fully worked out but, from their first migrations from their southerly calf country, we can be sure that they dealt in the same biological currency as their prey, namely the energy required to fuel their growth, early survival and reproduction. Both physiological and cultural adaptations were driven by these unforgiving imperatives. Thus the anatomical and physiological characteristics best suited to survival in bitter winter cold and intense summer sunlight were reinforced by animistic religious beliefs that conferred a spiritual status on the creatures upon which their long-term survival depended.
… The emphasis of Roger Howard’s The Arctic Gold Rush is on the effect of a thawing Arctic on the relationships between the so-called “Arctic Five”—Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and Norway. As with Sale’s book, the immediate stimulus for Howard’s was the disturbing news that, on August 2, 2007, a Russian submarine had planted the Federation’s national flag on the seabed 14,000 feet directly beneath the North Pole. Although not such an immediate claim to sovereignty over the whole of the Arctic region between Russia’s long northern coastline and the Pole as the popular press might have us believe, this bold action by a resurgent nation, buoyed up by sales of hydrocarbons to Europe, is alarming enough. Howard interprets this action and other more overtly threatening ones, such as the recent Russian naval exercise among Norwegian oil platforms, as no more than aggressive posturing. [September 4, 2009 Roger Howard: Cold War in the Arctic As the ice retreats, the territorial claims of the Arctic Five are hotting up]
In his magisterial The Future History of the Arctic, Charles Emmerson uses first-hand knowledge and detailed analysis to provide a comprehensive picture of the recent history and likely international future of the Arctic ice cap, seabed and terrestrial hinterland. His account explores and greatly extends the issues raised by Sale and Howard.
25 March 2009
The Great Game Moves North: As the Arctic Melts, Countries Vie for Control
SCOTT G. BORGERSON, Visiting Fellow for Ocean Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations.
(Foreign Affairs) The Arctic is the fastest-warming region on earth and continues to melt at a breathtaking rate. The next few years will be critical in determining whether the region’s long-term future will be one of international harmony and the rule of law, or a Hobbesian free-for-all. Although the Bush administration took a huge step by publishing a new Arctic policy during its final week in office, the Obama administration must do far more to keep Washington from being further marginalized in this geostrategically important region.
20 November 2008
EU urges action to exploit Arctic oil and gas
(FT via argumentations.com) European Union policymakers have called for a concerted international effort to exploit the Arctic’s oil and gas resources and said its vast untapped reserves could enhance Europe’s energy security
European Union policymakers called for a carefully managed international effort to exploit the Arctic’s oil and gas resources and said that its vast untapped reserves could enhance Europe’s energy security.
The European Commission demanded observance of the highest environmental standards and appealed for full protection of the rights of indigenous Arctic people.
Riches in the Arctic: the new oil race
(The Independent) It is the increasingly rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice, which last September hit a new record summer low, and of land-based ice on Greenland, which is opening up the possibility of the once frozen wasteland providing a natural resources and minerals bonanza, not to mention a major new transport route – last year the fabled North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the top of Canada was navigable for the first time.
Scientists consider that global warming is responsible for the melting, with the high latitudes of the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
21 August 2007
Scramble for the Arctic
(CSM) To help protect this ocean from exploitation, the US must first join the UN Law of the Sea Treaty.