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NEWS: The energy industry’s mad rush for Arctic oil deposits

The Globe and Mail reports, “Massive declines in Arctic ice cover…have made High Arctic passages more common and may soon see seasonal summer trade routes opening up. …China, South Korea and Russia, all (have) an eye on Arctic trade routes as well as polar research… Untold oil wealth, the prospect of new, if seasonal, trade routes have turned the top of the world into the 21st-century version of The Great Game, with major powers jockeying for influence.”

The United States Geological Survey has estimated the Arctic region has 90 billion barrels of ‘technically recoverable’ oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Chevron has an exploration license for 205,000 hectares of seabed off Yukon’s north coast, about 100 kilometres north of Herschel Island. Imperial Oil and Exxon Mobil Canada have also secured exploration rights. In 2008, BP acquired three licenses for exploration rights in a 6,000 square kilometre area about 180 kilometres off the coast of the Northwest Territories in the Beaufort Sea. There are also many concerns about the National Energy Board’s ongoing review of the regulations that would govern oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

In another Globe and Mail article today, it’s reported that, “Exxon Mobil Corp.’s blockbuster $2.2 billion deal to drill for oil in the frigid waters north of Russia with (the Russian oil company) Rosneft is the latest sign of the energy industry’s white-hot interest in exploring above the Arctic Circle. …Exxon and Rosneft hope to begin preliminary exploration work next year.” They expect that the first exploratory well could be drilled in 2015 and production could begin by early next decade.

This past May, Council of Canadians climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue told Al Jazeera, “The idea that global warming will melt polar ice caps and allow for new petroleum exploitation in the far north represents a terrible irony. Climate change is making these resources easier to exploit, while burning these resources will only contribute to more climate change. In Canada, we have seen a number of well-known actors, including BP and Chevron, exploring for oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea.”

In March 2010, the Council of Canadians, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the REDOIL Network issued an open letter to the foreign ministers of Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark urging them to pursue a moratorium on all new exploration for fossil fuel resources in the Arctic region.

In May 2011, when the Arctic Council (including these ministers) met in Nuuk, Greenland, the Council of Canadians and the Indigenous Environment Network organized an ‘oil spill’ outside the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa. A letter was also delivered to the ministers saying fossil fuel deposits must be left in the ground to avoid the serious impacts of climate change. That letter was signed by Greenland’s Avataq, Friends of the Earth in Denmark, Greenpeace in Denmark, Friends of the Earth in Norway, Greenpeace Norway, Russia’s Kola Environmental Center, the Council of Canadians, Yukon Conservation Society, the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange, and the Indigenous Environmental Network.