Posts Tagged ‘Arctic Oil and Gas’

A potential U.S.-Russia clash in the Arctic

August 14, 2015

saker-arctic-860x1024The Russian Federation has literally laid claim to the North Pole.  This is not a joke.

As the Arctic ice cap melts, Arctic oil is becoming available to drillers, and the USA, the Russian Federation, Canada, Norway and Denmark (which owns Greenland) have conflicting claims.

Unlike in the artificial crisis in Ukraine, this is a real national interest of the United States—at least until we American end our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, which I hope will happen but don’t expect anytime soon.

A pro-Russian blogger called The Saker included this map in a post about Russian military capabilities in the Arctic, which are strong and long-standing.

I don’t think anybody in Moscow or Washington is crazy enough to start a nuclear war over Arctic oil.  But if both countries have nuclear-armed submarines in the Arctic to back up their claims, there is a danger of accidental war.

Canada is second only to Russia in the extent of its Arctic coastline, and the economic strategy of Canada’s Harper administration, like that of the Obama administration, is based on developing oil and gas resources.  I wonder whether Canada will join forces with the USA in a confrontation with Russia.

The way to avoid conflict is by means of negotiation and compromise, but that requires good will and a certain amount of trust among all concerned.


Russia Moves to Protect Her Arctic Interests by The Saker for the Unz Review.

The Battle for the Arctic by J. Hawk for SouthFront.  The view of another pro-Russian blogger.

The sinking of the Canadian Navy by Scott Gilmore for MacLean’s.  [Added later]  Canada may not have a sufficient naval force to assert its claims in the Arctic without backup from the US.

An Arctic future that’s already here

June 4, 2012

The future is already here, the science fiction writer William Gibson once wrote; it just isn’t widely distributed.  Charles Emmerson in his 2010 book, The Future History of the Arctic, said the future of the Arctic is already here, shaped by the melting of the polar caps, the opening of the Arctic Ocean to navigation and the world’s appetite for the Arctic’s natural resources, especially its oil and gas.   I learned a lot from the book about the present and future importance of the Northern world.

Russia is the nation with the largest presence in the Arctic and strongest commitment to developing the Arctic, Emmerson said; the Russians are more oriented toward their Far North than any other people except Greenlanders.  This goes back to the old Soviet Union.  The first Heroes of the Soviet Union were Arctic aviators and explorers, and many Gulag forced laborers died building the White Sea canal and other Arctic infrastructure.

In present-day Russia, exports of oil and gas are the basis of the economy, and as production in the older oil fields peaks out, the new Arctic fields become critically important.

Gazprom, a company in which the Russian government holds a majority interest, is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and owns the world’s largest natural gas reserves.  It has an ambitious plan to develop Arctic gas fields and  ship liquified natural gas (LNG) from Arctic ports.   Like the old USSR, Russia is determined to press forward regardless of cost, efficiency or the ups and downs of oil and gas prices.

The Russian dilemma is that its energy industry needs the technological expertise of Western companies, but the government is unwilling to accept foreign control of its resources.  Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil magnate, was reportedly on the verge of selling a large part of his company, Yukos, to ExxonMobil and Chevron when he was arrested in 2003.

The United States and Canada became Arctic powers partly as a result of historical accident.  The purchase of Alaska from Russia by U.S. Secretary of State William Seward in 1867 was unpopular.  Also in 1867, the British North American Act created the Dominion of Canada, consisting of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the southern parts of present-day Quebec and Ontario.  British Columbia was a separate entity and most of the land area of present-day Canada was controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was devoted to trading for furs with the native peoples.  Canada’s Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, alarmed by Seward’s ambition to acquire British Columbia and Greenland, negotiated the purchase of the Hudson Bay territories, and persuaded British Columbia to join Canada by promising to build a Canadian Pacific Railroad.  Without Seward and MacDonald, history may have taken a different course.

Oil companies in Canada and Alaska are pressing forward, but they are constrained by economic and environmental considerations more than the government-controlled Russian companies.

Leaders of the native peoples of Alaska and northern Canada are caught in the middle.  They want economic development, but also want to continue traditional activities such as whale and seal hunting.  They distrust the oil companies, but think they can deal with them, and they have no use at all for environmentalists, who, as the native leaders see it, want to deprive them of the benefits of the modern world.  Arctic warming threatens this way of life regardless of what the oil, gas and minerals do.  Any actions to mitigate global warming will not change the current situation, but may prevent things from getting even worse 20 or 30 years from now.

Emmerson thinks Norway has the most enlightened and balanced approach to development of its Arctic resources.  Iceland is attractive to outside companies because of its abundant geothermal and hydroelectric power, and Greenland even more so because of the potential resources under the melting Greenland ice cap.   Iceland’s population is slightly over 300,000, less than Monroe County, N.Y., where I live, and Greenland’s is about 56,000, yet many Greenlanders want independence from Denmark.  They are in much the same position as the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, tiny communities sitting on enormous resources which they lack the power to defend.

The book is worth reading, and contains a lot more interesting material.  One sidelight, and sign of the times:  The world’s largest manufacturer of icebreakers is Aker Arctic, a Finnish company, but the only work still done in Finland is design and testing of prototypes.  Manufacture has been outsourced to Korea.

Click on The Guardian, Financial Times and Eye on the Arctic for reviews of Emmerson’s book.

Click on The potential wealth of a warming Arctic and Navigating a warming Arctic Ocean for maps showing national territorial claims, Arctic oil and gas fields and potential Arctic sea routes.

[Added 6/5/12]  A number of people, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Saturday, have called on the Arctic nations to make the region a zone of peace and international cooperation.  It certainly would be a good place to begin.  Without enlightened action, the Arctic seems destined to become a zone of economic rivalry, political conflict and military confrontation.

The potential wealth of a warming Arctic

June 4, 2012

Arctic oil and gas exploration fields

The gradual shrinking of the Arctic ice cap is opening the Arctic’s oil and gas, minerals and fisheries for development. Corporations and Arctic nations all want their share.

British writer Charles Emmerson wrote in The Future History of the Arctic, which was published in 2010, that the Russian Federation is the nation with the greatest presence in the Arctic and the greatest commitment to expanding in the region.   Russia thinks of itself as an Arctic nation.  This has been so, Emmerson wrote, since the days of the old Soviet Union, which built an Arctic infrastructure on the bodies of Gulag laborers.  The earliest Heroes of the Soviet Union were Arctic aviators and explorers.  Present-day Russia has no Gulag, but, like the old Soviet Union, it is committed to Arctic development by government policy regardless of cost, efficiency and fluctuations of the world price of oil and gas.

Click to enlarge

The above map shows the conflicting claims of nations.  The map below shows just the Russian claim.  The heavy black line shows the limits of the part of the Russian claim recognized by other nations.  The darker region shows the more extensive Russian claim.

Click to enlarge

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to the Norwegian Arctic on Saturday and called for cooperation among the Arctic nations—Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

Click on Arctic Oil and Gas Resources for more about the Arctic’s potential as a source of oil and gas.

Click on Russia: the non-reluctant Arctic power for more about Russia’s claims in the Arctic.

Click on Arctic Warming Means Challenges, Clinton Says for the Voice of America’s report on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call last Saturday for international cooperation in the Arctic.

Click on Clinton in Arctic: Promenade with profit in mind for Russia Today’s version of Clinton’s position.

Click on Navigating a warming Arctic Ocean for more maps.