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Symposium 2012

Proposal - Balancing national interests and common interests for sustainable energy exploration and production in the arctic ocean

The Challenge

As temperatures rise with a changing climate, Arctic sea ice melts. As a consequence, the once ice-covered Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly accessible, with implications for various economic sectors. ...

As temperatures rise with a changing climate, Arctic sea ice melts. As a consequence, the once ice-covered Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly accessible, with implications for various economic sectors. In particular, the oil and gas resources below the seafloor have whetted the appetite of the littoral states—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States—as well as outsiders, such as China and the European Union, which are developing or rethinking their Arctic strategies.

Proposal: Sustainable energy resource exploration and production in the Arctic Ocean involves operational strategies that balance national interests and common interests in the region

Rationale: “The Arctic is where three of the twenty-first century’s greatest challenges intersect: the pressing need for hydrocarbon resources, climate change, and the tendency to securitize areas containing these resources as well as the passages to them.”1 Interests in the Arctic Ocean extend most immediately from the surrounding stakeholders and rights holders – Arctic states and indigenous peoples – to the non-Arctic states and global civil society more generally. The difficulty is to reconcile and harmonize these diverse interests in a manner that promotes sustainable development of the Arctic Ocean – balancing environmental protection, economic prosperity and social equity with local, regional and global implications.

While diminished sea ice may enhance the opportunities for trade, tourism or fisheries in the Arctic Ocean – among all of the commercial activities, “energy is the crucial factor in the planet's economic development.”2 Since the 1970’s, Arctic regions of the Unites States and Russia followed later by Canada and Norway have been producing both oil and gas from the Arctic Ocean. With rising global demand, “oil and gas activity in the region is expected to increase.”3 Most importantly, potential energy supplies in the Arctic Ocean are significant on a global scale:4

“The United States Geological Survey has assessed the area north of the Arctic Circle and concluded that about 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil may be found there.”

More than 80% of the estimated hydrocarbon resources “are believed to be offshore” where it will be especially important to establish a “consistent and effective regulatory framework in support of oil and gas development.”5 In addition, “according to some expert assessments, 20-46 billion tons of oil and 0.5-1.5 trillion cubic meters of gas are deposited in the sea sub-soil areas adjacent to the coasts of the Russian Federation alone.”6

The question is how to establish effective operational strategies for both hydrocarbon resource activities and environmental protection in the Arctic Ocean. Certainly, perfect standards would prevent any accident spills. Realistically, however, there will be accidents, which is the reason for contingency planning. However, contingency plans resulting from the “best available technology” – as reflected by lessons from the ‘BP Deepwater Horizon’ oil spill7 – only have utility until the bar is raised by the next serious incident.

A significant step in the development of operational strategies for activities across the Arctic Ocean occurred in 2011 with the signing of the search and rescue agreement8 at the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Nuuk, Greenland, establishing the first binding pan-Arctic agreement among all of the Arctic states. The Arctic Council is now focusing on an emergency preparedness and response agreement that will further elaborate infrastructure responses for oil and gas activities in the Arctic Ocean.

Recognizing that the “Arctic must also be seen in a global context, including from the viewpoint of international peace and security”9 – it is fundamental to build on the "common arctic issues" of sustainable development and environmental protection established by the Arctic Council.10 Over the coming decades, sustainable exploration and production of energy resources in the Arctic Ocean will require balancing national interests and common interests with vision for future generations.

 


 

1 EASI. 2012. Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative: Toward a Euro-Atlantic Security Community. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Moscow, Brussels, Washington, DC.
2 G8. 2009. Energy Ministers’ Meeting. L’Aquila, Italy. 6 April 2009.3 AOG. 2008. Arctic Oil and Gas 2007. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Arctic Council, Oslo.4 Gautier, D.L., Bird, K.J., Charpentier, R.R., Grantz, A., Houseknecht,, D.W., Klett, T.R.,Moore, T.E., Pitman, J.K., Schenk, C.J., Schuenemeyer, J.H., Sørensen, K., Tennyson, M.E., Valin, Z.C. and Wandrey, C.J. 2009. Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the Arctic. Science 234:1175-1179.
5 Blaauw, R.J. 2012 . Oil and Gas Development Risks and Opportunities in the Arctic Ocean. IN: Berkman, P.A. and Vylegzhanin, A.N. (eds.). Environmental Security in the Arctic Ocean. Springer, Dordrecht. In press.
6 Vasilevskaya, D.V., Nikolaev, A.V. and Tsoy, G.I. 2012. The Environmental Component of the National Maritime Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic Region IN: Berkman, P.A. and Vylegzhanin, A.N. (eds.). Environmental Security in the Arctic Ocean. Springer, Dordrecht. In press.
7 Staff Working Paper. 2011. The Challenges of Oil Spill Response in the Arctic. National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Staff Working Paper No. 5. Washington, D.C.
8 Arctic SAR. 2011. Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic. Nuuk, 12 May 2011.
9 Corell, H. 2009. The Arctic: An Opportunity to Cooperate and Demonstrate International Statesmanship. Venderbilit Journal of Transnational Law 42:1065-1079.
10 Ottawa Declaration. 1996. Declaration on the Establishment of the Arctic Council. 19 September 1996, Ottawa, Canada.

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