As the ice recedes in the Arctic a drastic increase in activities in the region is taking place. However, the region is largely new to shipping, oil drilling and other activities and this combination with the environment, which is fragile, could be disastrous according to numerous studies and concerned environmental groups.
The approximations vary depending upon the source regarding the global oil and gas reserves in the Arctic, although they are all significant enough to cause major investments from oil companies globally. One source, the U.S. Geological Survey, indicates they believe thirteen percent of undiscovered oil and thirty percent of natural gas lies beneath Arctic water and ice. This knowledge has led to significant interest of oil companies across the world and as the Arctic has become open to shipping, it has become open to oil exploration as well.
Approximately $100 billion in investments are expected in the Arctic in the next decade. These investments are largely expected in the waters of Russia, approximately half the sum, Greenland and Canada for oil drilling. However, plans for iron ore mining on land has also been promoted by individuals.
Concerns regarding oil drilling in the Arctic have long been discussed by environmental groups, that oil spills in the region would be disastrous. Amongst the many issues surrounding an oil spill in the Arctic are: the distance from crews to the spill, the unpredictable weather, the ice, a lower biodegradation rate of the oil and the likely inability to use the go-to chemicals to disperse due to unknown impacts. Activity in the Arctic will likely lead to altered migration patterns for a number of species, air and water pollutants and a number of side effects would be seen by the general increase of traffic on both land and water, including the building of roads.
Adding to the concern is the vastness and sparseness of the region which could lend itself to overdevelopment with little to keep companies in check. Such a role could fall on the Arctic Council, eight nations calling the Arctic home, at least in part. Which is one of many reasons why the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the U.S. recently visited the Arctic nation of Norway. The mere presence of the Secretary of State has many indicating that significant development in the Arctic is quickly becoming a major global reality.
Clinton stated: “From a strategic standpoint, the Arctic has an increasing geopolitical importance as countries vie to protect their rights and extend their influence. […] We want to work with Norway and the Arctic Council to help manage these changes and to agree on what would be, in effect, the rules of the road in the Arctic, so new developments are economically sustainable and environmentally responsible.”