It is estimated that upwards of twenty-five percent of the planet’s oil and natural gas deposits reside under the Arctic Ocean. As the Arctic loses sea ice coverage and becomes easier to maneuver, many nations residing along the Arctic are battling for jurisdiction rights. Russia, Denmark, Canada, Norway and the United States are included in the battle.
Russia took the step of planting a Russian flag on the Arctic Ocean floor four years ago to assert their claims. Russia is highly interested in the oil and natural gas deposits available in the area as the world’s largest oil producer. However, their oil reserves in some parts of the country are being depleted, leading them to attempt to find sources elsewhere. Currently only two percent of Russian oil comes from offshore drilling, however, the country plans to change this with the opening of the Arctic.
Russia sent their first offshore oil platform to the Arctic four months ago under immense scrutiny from environmental groups and even some in the oil and natural gas industry. The concerns with launching an oil platform in the Arctic are largely due to the inexperience of drilling in harsh conditions and the distance from both cleanup and rescue crews if something were to occur. A spill in the Arctic would be highly damaging to the environment due to the conditions.
Now the oil platform, the Kolskaya, which was sent to the Arctic only four months ago has sunk in the Sea of Okhotsk, killing all fifty-three crew members. The platform was not carrying oil at the time of the sinking. However, the sinking does highlight the concerns that environmental and industry experts spoke of prior to Russia launching the platform.
Due to the sinking, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and five environmental organizations within Russia are pressing the government to suspend all offshore oil drilling projects in the Arctic. The groups point to the potential environmental and safety hazards of operating in the Arctic without fully being prepared for the harsh environment.
An oil platform in the Arctic being pinpointed due to the sinking of another is the Prirazlomnaya platform located approximately 600 miles from its nearest port, Murmansk. This is said to be the first ice resistant oil platform and is capable of holding 840,000 barrels of oil. Due to the distance from shore, the platform would likely accumulate high numbers of barrels until tankers were able to reach the platform- yet another danger of oil drilling in the Arctic. So while the Kolskaya held no oil, the Prirazlomnaya could potentially release 840,000 barrels of oil into the Arctic leading to a disaster of unimaginable proportions.