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UPDATE: Council of Canadians on this week’s Arctic Council ministerial

Stay tuned this week for updates from Council of Canadians energy and climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue on our Arctic campaign.

This Thursday May 12, the foreign ministers of eight Arctic states – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States – will meet in Nuuk, Greenland for the 7th Arctic Council ministerial meeting. Denmark currently chairs the Arctic Council, after this ministerial Sweden will take over for the next two years, then Canada will be the chair starting in 2013. It will be under Canada’s watch that drilling for oil and gas is expected to begin in the Arctic.

The Associated Press reported this past weekend that, “The US Geological Survey estimated in 2008 that the Arctic Circle has about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. Combined, that would total 22 per cent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources. About 84 per cent of those oil and gas reserves are estimated to be offshore.” Chevron, BP, Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil and Shell see profit in that oil and gas.

The Barents Observer recently reported, “Chevron’s plans (to explore for oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea) are pending the results of a review of current offshore drilling safety standards by the National Energy Board, and BP, which holds exploration licenses in the Beaufort Sea, is expected to begin operations in 2014.” Chevron, the third largest lease holder in the Arctic, has an exploration license for 205,000 hectares of seabed off Yukon’s north coast, about 100 kilometres north of Herschel Island. 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. Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil Canada have also secured exploration rights. Last week, “Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said the company will seek permission (from the United States) to drill four wells in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north shore and six in the Chukchi Sea off the state’s northwest shore using two drilling ships in 2012 and 2013.”

Michael Byers confirms in today’s Globe and Mail that, “The issue of offshore oil-and-gas development will figure prominently in the discussions (at this week’s Arctic Council meeting) – so much so that U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will also attend (along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).”

There seems to be a certain inevitability to a massive oil spill. This week, the Inuit Circumpolar Council will issue a declaration that calls on the Arctic states to set up an emergency fund for dealing with oil spills. The Globe and Mail reported that several years ago Ottawa began preparing too by shipping oil spill kits, each containing more than 300 metres of containment boom, to Northern communities. And given Arctic conditions, there does appear to be an awareness that if an oil spill or blowout similar to the BP Deepwater Horizon were to happen it would be even more catastrophic in the Arctic than in the Gulf of Mexico. And yet the oil companies are not only pushing ahead, they are actively lobbying the National Energy Board against a requirement to complete a relief well in the same season as they begin their initial drilling, a policy intended to address a blowout from spewing oil under the sea ice for months.

On March 25, 2010, the Council of Canadians, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the REDOIL Network issued an open letter to the foreign ministers of Canada, the United States, Denmark, Norway and Russia just prior to their Arctic Summit in Chelsea, Quebec. That letter urged them to pursue a moratorium on all new exploration for fossil fuel resources in the Arctic region. This week, along with many Arctic state-based organizations, we are saying in an open letter – and an Ottawa-based action – that given the imperative to reduce the world’s carbon emissions, we should not be allowing transnational corporations like Chevron and BP to extract carbon-emitting oil and gas from the Arctic. Our message – leave it in the ground.

For more on our Arctic work, go to http://canadians.org/arctic.