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Big Oil in the Arctic Council?

A tugboat towing an oil drilling platform into the Alaskan Arctic. Photo: anyaku2419/flickr

 

Drilling for oil is almost always risky business. Deposits are rarely found in convenient places and drilling is expensive. Even if alternative energies are slowly taking over the energy market, most experts agree that we still need oil. As current wells dry up, therefore, we must also drill in new, more challenging places, like the Arctic seas.

The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds ninety billion barrels of undiscovered oil. This is almost three times annual global consumption and could be as much as thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered reserves. The vast majority of Arctic oil, however, lies offshore – protected by fierce weather conditions that make drilling almost impossible, or at least very dangerous.

Commercial interest in the Arctic is nonetheless high. As recently as September the Norwegian government announced that forty-two companies had applied for drilling permissions in the Norwegian Arctic. Statoil alone applied for drilling in seventy-two new blocks and will drill nine new exploration wells next year. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell (finally) received permission to drill to shallow depths at the Beaufort and Chukchi wells in Alaska, US. » More

Is NATO taking over the Arctic?

A U.S. Navy SEAL freefall parachute onto a frozen a lake in Northern Norway. Photo: Flickr/AN HONORABLE GERMAN

Five of the eight Arctic Council states are NATO members. So far, 2012 has also been a year where Swedes and Fins have moved closer toward full membership of alliance. If Sweden and Finland were to join, which seems plausible, NATO members would occupy 7 out of the total 8 seats in the Arctic Council.

In advance of this becoming reality the blogosphere has, over the last couple of months, been littered with conspiracy theories on secret plans for “Arctic war” between the NATO and the only non-NATO member in the Arctic Council, Russia. » More

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North America in the Arctic: A Regional Power Disparity

USCGC Willow on Arctic-Patrol

US Coast Guard Cutter Willow and Her Danish Majesty’s Ship Hvidbjoernen navigate through icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, during joint Operation Nanook, Aug. 23, 2011. Photo: Charles McCain/flickr.

In 2013 the Canadian government will hold the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In preparation for this the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program last week released a set of recommendations of what should guide the Canadians’ two year tenure. Expectations are that the chairmanship will prove an assertive Canada acting on their belief that they promote the interests of the Arctic by advancing Canadian leadership.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was on her way to Tromsø (Norway) and Stockholm (Sweden) to reaffirm that the US has an interest in the Arctic, rebuffing criticisms that this rarely shows. With her trip to Scandinavia some experts conjured that this was the first baby-step to finally signing the UNCLOS. This would be a landmark as it (at least officially) enables the country to press its claims on the Arctic. Even if this was the case, the US will still need to work hard to keep up with their Arctic partners.    » More

China: Icebreaking in the Arctic

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Chinese vessel ‘Snow Dragon’ in action (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

When we think of Chinese foreign policy most of us picture foreign direct investment in Africa and assertiveness in the Near Seas (Yellow, East China and South China). Few of us think ice breakers. China’s application to join the Arctic Council as permanent observer however suggests the Chinese are now looking north.

Careful Diplomacy

Estimates have it that half of China’s gross domestic product is dependent on export. If the Arctic would become navigable during summer months, as a result of climate change, and shorten the trip from Shanghai to Hamburg by taking the Northern Sea Route instead of 6400 kilo-metres longer route via the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal, then it seems justifiable, even for a non-Arctic state, to have some interest in High North policy. » More

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Arctic: What Place for Scandinavian Solidarity?

"This is our territory:" Polar bears on the starboard bow of a submarine. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.

It has been an exciting New Year for High North policy in the Scandinavian countries. In the annual Foreign Policy Declaration last Tuesday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt reiterated the government’s intent to push its new Arctic Strategy as one of its core foreign policies. To the west, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Garh Störe announced Oslo’s new project of drilling for petroleum (together with Russia) in the northern parts of the Barents Sea. In the south, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal appointed the country’s first Arctic Ambassador, Klavs A. Holm, previously an emissary to London, Singapore and the EU.

The Arctic is the new buzz word in Scandinavian corridors of power. All three states have now drawn up comprehensive strategies articulating their vision for the region. But are their visions compatible?  While Scandinavian states are often considered politically indistinguishable (and have pledged themselves, as signatories of the “Nordic Declaration of Solidarity,” to govern in respect of their common heritage) their geographical differences could bring them into competition over the Arctic.

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