The new government of Greenland will not grant any fresh offshore oil and gas drilling licenses in the country’s Arctic waters and will also place existing licenses under greater scrutiny. The moratorium is a result of concerns raised by Greenpeace about the risk of oil spills and the fear that offshore oil and gas operations will increase climate change.
At the end of March, 47-year-old Aleqa Hammond became Greenland’s first female prime minister. Earlier in the month, her social democratic Siumut party won 42.8% of the vote, beating the sitting prime minister and his socialist Inuit Ataqatigiit party, which came in at 34%.
This is the first change in parties in 30 years, and it looks like Ms. Hammond is determined to make a difference.
Greenland is officially a part of Denmark, but has a great deal of autonomy in almost every area. The country is four times the size of France, but has a population of just 57,000.
It is the world’s largest island, with a total area of around 2.2 million square kilometres. It used to be that only about 410,000 square kilometres were not covered by ice, but this is rapidly changing. When my nephew traveled there a few years ago, he carried a map from London’s Royal Geographical Society, but the map wasn’t always so helpful: so much snow and ice had melted over the past 25 years that much of the topography just didn’t match what was on the map.
This ban comes just as one of the Arctic drilling pioneers, the British company Cairn Energy, has failed in a bid to keep an injunction on any protests organized against it by Greenpeace.
From The Guardian:
Jon Burgwald, Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace in Denmark, said it was good news for everyone: “Until now, the people of Greenland have been kept in the dark about the enormous risks taken by the politicians and companies in the search for Arctic oil. Now it seems that the new government will start taking these risks seriously. The logical conclusion must be a total ban on offshore oil drilling in Greenland.”
Greenland, along with Alaska and Russia, has been at the forefront of oil company hopes to uncover an estimated 25% of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves lying under and around the Arctic ocean. So where do Alaska and Russia stand?
Arctic Drilling In Alaska
In February, Shell announced that it would not conduct offshore drilling operations in the Alaska Arctic this year. Despite much public outcry, the Obama administration in 2011 gave Royal Dutch Shell permissions to begin drilling for oil in the waters of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
However, in March 2013, Shell “screwed up” drilling for oil in Arctic waters and will not be allowed back without a comprehensive overhaul of its plans.
Shell announced a “pause” in Arctic drilling last month. But Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, told a reporters’ conference call that the company will not be allowed to return without producing a much more detailed plan, one tailored specifically to the harsh Arctic conditions.
“Shell will not be able to move forward into the Arctic to do any kind of exploration unless they have this integrated management plan put in place,” said Salazar, in one of his last acts before standing down as interior secretary. “It’s that plain and simple.”
But this leaves open the possibility of drilling in the future.
Arctic Drilling In Russia
Meanwhile, it appears that the Russians are unconcerned about potential environmental damage related to drilling in the Arctic waters.
Care2′s Joel Boyce reports that Russia is leading the charge for oil exploration in the Arctic circle. Even though it may be the most environmentally-damaging region to have an oil spill, the Kremlin has already turned an industrial port city, Severodvinsk, from an assembly site for nuclear submarines into a manufactory for massive oil platforms.
Kudos to Greenland’s prime minister, Aleqa Hammond, for standing up for the environment.
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