Exploiting the Arctic

Over many of the last decades, Norway’s wealth grew significantly, thanks to state revenues flowing from North Sea Oil.    During this period Norway was a benefactor to third world countries, assisting them to adopt measures to limit climate change and its impacts.

A recent article in the Manchester Guardian commented on the ambivalence of Norway towards climate change measures. Recognizing that North Sea Oil is entering a period of decline, the Norwegian Government is encouraging exploration for oil and gas in the Arctic.This policy undermines emission reduction targets accepted by Norway and all other parties to the 2015 Paris Accord.

Canada’s position on exploration for new reserves is similar.  Our Federal Government has not permanently banned exploration in the Arctic and has approved construction of more pipelines to take our fossil fuels to world markets.

Canadian emissions from the exploitation of the Tar Sands will increase over today’s levels.  More important is the increase in emissions in countries that import and consume our exports of fossil fuels.

Canada’s politicians claim that a reliable supply of oil and gas is essential for the world’s economy, a state of affairs that will continue for many years.  In short, the energy world is in a transition period. Canada defends its present policies on that basis.

Norway justifies its position on the basis of its  high carbon tax, a very high percentage of electricity generated by renewable sources, and leadership in carbon capture.  Canada’s  justifications are less impressive. True, our Federal Government is working with the Provinces to institute a tax on carbon. And it also claims that it will meet its future emission reduction targets.

Both Canada and Norway share a risk: renewable sources are rapidly becoming more competitive, and the demand for fossil fuels is projected to decline. Further, their remaining oil reserves are more expensive to exploit so the costs of new exploration and development may never be fully recovered.

This possibility appears to be of little importance to governments as these commercial risks are primarily born by the fossil fuel industry. In the meantime, jobs will be created and revenues paid to the state, for which the governments in power will take credit.

The fossil fuel industry is legally obligated to restore the areas from which oil has been extracted.  If the industry is not in a strong financial position, the Canadian government may be saddled with the cost of restoration of the Tar Sands environment.

The tar sands are located in the North of Alberta, an area of environmental concern to many aboriginal nations but not to most voters.  As this potential liability is far off, do the government in power at that time may well claim that the failure of the industry to restore the area is not its concern.

Environmentalist Lan Marie Nguyen Berg expressed the feeling of Norwegians in these terms:

“We greens have said we don’t want to support a government that continues to explore new oil.  That would be hypocrisy”!

The BC Provincial Green Party shares this sentiment.  In the words of Andrew Weaver, the Party Leader:

“Over the years it became harder and harder to sit on the sidelines and watch as BC continued to go down the path of investing in old fossil fuel technologies, missing the opportunity to develop a diversified and resilient economy for this generation and the next.


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1 thought on “Exploiting the Arctic”

  1. Canada has taken a step forward since this commentary was posted. Catharine McKenna, the Federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change has announced the creation of a record marine protection area for Lancaster Sound (in the high Arctic, North of Baffin Island). Exploration for oil reserves in this reserve is prohibited.

    A giant cruise ship, the CRYSTAL SERENITY, is in the final stages of navigating the North West passage in the Canadian Arctic. This tourism cruise has the support of Inuit artisans and the population of the small villages en route.

    Ironic that when the ship arrived at its first “port” (!) of call, in the NWT, “Not an ice floe was in sight as a warming climate and a huge cruise ship combined to usher in a new era of mass tourism in Canada’s Arctic” (commentary by our CBC.
    Peter Jones

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