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Oil in the Arctic: Indispensable resource or Irreversible damage?

4 minutes to read

 A few days ago, Rosneft, the Russian state run oil company announced that a well it was digging along with Exxon Mobil in the Russian arctic has yielded oil. Although extraction has not commenced yet due to US sanctions restricting American companies from working in the Russian arctic, there will be much to worry about once the sanctions are lifted. In January 2013, the Shell operated Kulluk drill rig in the arctic ran aground, unable to withstand the tough arctic conditions. The incident prompted Shell and few other companies to put their plans of drilling in the arctic, on hold. However, it is only a matter of time before they return for the black gold.

The Arctic Challenge

The inaccessibility of the Arctic and its harsh conditions have proven to be a challenge for even corporate giants like Shell. Drifting icebergs, extreme cold, powerful storms and long periods of darkness characterise the arctic and drilling there in spite of these would be an invitation for disaster. In the event of a spill, a timely and effective response would be too much to expect considering the technical, logistical and environmental risks. There has not been a major oil spill under the ice-sheet till now but today’s oil companies seem to be in no shape to mitigate such disastrous events. The Arctic presents a complex set of challenges far greater than those encountered in most other regions. Operating there would require tremendous amount of technical expertise and experience but recent events suggest that major oil companies are not as concerned about regulations and safety as they should be.

Disaster Ready?

British Petroleum’s contingency plan for a major spill in the Deepwater horizon, Gulf of Mexico, included measures to protect the local walrus population. Clearly, the company had been so negligent that it simply used the same contingency plan as that of its rigs in Alaska or the North Sea. In January 2013, the US Department of Interior directed a review of Shell’s offshore operations in Beaufort and Chukchi Seas due to inadequate management oversight. The company failed to finalize vital components of its drilling program and obtain timely vessel certification. In February 2013, Shell announced its decision to halt exploratory activity in order to address management and planning issues. Similarly, most companies might be scrambling to be the first ones to get to the untapped oil without taking enough precautions.

Is Arctic oil the only solution?

There is no doubt that Arctic Oil features prominently in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grand scheme of things. The prosecution of 30 Greenpeace activists who tried to climb aboard a Gazprom rig last year is enough to suggest that he will not yield to climate change activists in his quest to make Russia the energy superpower and gain leverage in world markets. With a depleted Siberia, he would be anxious to get hold of as many resources as he can. The IEA’s World Energy Outlook report warned that more than two-thirds of the world’s proven fossil-fuel reserves need to still be in the ground in 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and prevent catastrophic climate change. A relaxed geopolitical atmosphere and greater developments in energy usage efficiency might be able to reduce the need for us to destroy the Arctic in such a haste. References:

Amarnath Reddy is training to be an engineering and is interested in  sustainable development, youth issues and energy policy. He enjoys fiction and history and hopes to travel a lot.