Retreating Arctic ice opens way to resources

By Joby Warrick and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
Updated: 05/21/2011 10:01:51 PM CDT
Original article here

Retreating Arctic ice has made Greenland's western coast accessible for oil exploration and drilling, which has created competition among rival nations. (Washington Post: Joby Warrick)

NUUK, Greenland – Here, just south of the Arctic Circle, where the sea ice is vanishing like dew on a July morning, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.

Across the region, a warming Arctic is opening up new competition for resources that until recently were out of reach, protected under a thick layer of ice. As glaciers defrost and ice floes diminish, the North is being viewed as a source of not only great wealth but also conflict, diplomats and policy experts say.

In recent months, oil companies have begun lining up for exploration rights to Baffin Bay, a hydrocarbon-rich region on Greenland’s western coast that until recently was too ice-choked for drilling. U.S. and Canadian diplomats have reopened a spat over navigation rights to a sea route through the Canadian Arctic that could cut shipping time and costs for long-haul tankers.

Even ownership of the North Pole has come into dispute, as Russia and Denmark pursue rival claims to the underlying seabed in hopes of locking up access to everything from fisheries to natural-gas deposits.

The intense rivalry over Arctic development was highlighted in diplomatic cables released recently by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Messages between U.S. diplomats revealed how northern nations, including the United States and Russia, have been maneuvering to ensure access to shipping lanes as well as undersea oil and gas deposits that are estimated to contain up to 25 percent of the world’s untapped reserves.

In the cables, U.S. officials worried that bickering over resources might even lead to an arming of the Arctic.

“While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention,” a 2009 State Department cable quoted a Russian ambassador as saying.

Concern over competition in the Arctic was partly behind an extraordinary diplomatic gathering recently in Greenland’s tiny capital Nuuk. This year’s meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council drew seven foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to attend an Arctic Council session. Accompanying Clinton was a second U.S. Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Clinton and her aides sought to call attention to climate change during the visit, highlighting new studies that show Arctic ice melting far more rapidly than scientists had believed. But Clinton also promoted a message of international cooperation in the Arctic.

“The challenges in the region are not just environmental,” Clinton said in Nuuk following talks with her Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen. “The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.”

Clinton’s presence at the Nuuk meeting was intended to show U.S. support for the Arctic Council as a critical forum for cooperation and to resolve conflicts. With strong backing from the Obama administration, the council approved the first legally binding treaty in its history, a pact that sets the rules for maritime search and rescue in the region. Although modest in scope, the treaty, authored mainly by Russia and the United States, was hailed as a template for future agreements on issues ranging from oil-spill cleanup to territorial disputes.

Significantly, the eight member nations voted to establish a permanent secretariat to the council, to be located in Tronso, Norway. Clinton asserted that the region’s powers must recognize the council as the “preeminent intergovernmental body, where we can solve shared problems and pursue shared opportunities.”

“The opportunities for economic development in the Arctic must be weighed against the need to protect its environment and ecosystems. And governments will not always see eye to eye on how to achieve this balance,” Clinton said. “That’s why this council is so important.”

In the diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, there was no dispute about rapid warming under way. The predominant questions revolved around how the region’s newly accessible resources would be carved up.

Hillary Clinton spreads Arctic chill

Rebukes Canada for leaving 3 countries off summit invitation list at time when ‘we need all hands on deck’; ice return seen as blip.
Gary Park
For Petroleum News

Hillary Clinton eating ice cream

Arctic sea ice has returned to average 1979-2000 levels for the first time in a decade after years of alarming shrinkage, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.
The expansion at a time of year when ice is normally melting was accompanied by a severe chill emanating from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she left a summit of Arctic coastal countries in Gatineau, Quebec.
She delivered what was characterized as a “smack-down” to Canada for not extending summit invitations to all of those with “legitimate interests in the region.”
And she hammered home the rebuke by shunning a news conference that ended the one-day meeting of foreign ministers from the U.S., Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark.
In Clinton’s view, Sweden, Finland and Iceland — all members of the eight-nation Arctic Council along with Inuit indigenous groups — and the region’s indigenous peoples should have participated in the discussions.
“I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions,” she said. “We need to have all hands on deck because there is a huge amount to do and not much time to do it.
“What happens in the Arctic will have broad consequences of the earth and its climate. The melting of sea ice, glaciers and permafrost will affect people and ecosystems around the world,” Clinton said.
“Understanding how these changes fit together is a task that demands international cooperation.”

Shoreline state solidarity

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said the summit was intended to build solidarity among the five shoreline states and underscore their “unique” position as chief guardian’s of the region’s environment.
The tensions among the Group of Five were evident prior to the summit when Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who said Russia is “not yet a stable, reliable, predictable state,” while stressing Norway’s desire to build a trusting, cooperative relationship with Russia on Arctic issues.
He said it was “unhelpful” that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently declared it “absolutely inadmissible” for other countries to try to “limit Russia’s access” to northern resources.
Medvedev’s remarks were interpreted as a poke at European Union efforts to become a bigger player in setting environmental regulations in Arctic waters as melting sea ice opened the way to increased northern shipping and petroleum exploration.
Store said that, unlike Canada’s “well-managed” Arctic territorial disputes with Denmark and the United States, Norway was trying to resolve a boundary dispute in a potentially oil-rich portion of the Barents Sea with Russia, when that country was still grappling with its transition from a totalitarian state to a democratic nation.
He mused that some experts say Russia is “lost in transition.”
But, like Clinton, Store acknowledged it was “not a good thing” to exclude Sweden, Finland and Iceland from the talks, although he argued the five participants have a special geographic status.

Protestors oppose drilling
Protesters from various organizations, including Greenpeace, urged participants in the summit to avoid a scramble to launch offshore drilling, arguing Arctic mineral resources should remain untouched.
Michael Byers, a professor of politics at the University of British Columbia, said the “three worst emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet — the United States, Canada and Russia — are around the table talking about a region of the world that is at the epicenter of climate change impact.”
The summit reached no significant agreements, with participants confining themselves to discussing “issues that relate to the continental mapping that fall under the United Nations Convention Law of the Seas.”
That extended to talk about creating mandatory shipping regulations, settling maritime boundaries, establishing search and rescue protocols and negotiating territorial disputes in the Beaufort Sea and Barents Sea.
Meanwhile, the Colorado snow and ice data center, which publishes monthly sea-ice updates, does not view the sea ice comeback as “the end of global warming,” said spokesman Mark Serreze.
He said a few weeks of cold weather in one part of the Arctic had distorted the overall numbers.
Serreze said “all of the action is in the Bering Sea … (causing) a late spurt in ice growth,” while the rest of the Arctic Ocean is experiencing “very warm” temperatures.
He also cautioned that satellite data used to develop the center’s information offers no information on ice thickness, suggesting most of the recent Bering Sea ice is likely very thin and won’t last.

Original article here