Contrary to opinions such as Senator Frank Murkowski's, the Arctic is not just “snow and ice.”
From Inuit tribes to the migratory caribou, the Arctic is full of life, especially during the summer. For energy-hungry nations, however, the Arctic is full of another element of interest: oil.
Beneath its melting icecaps lie the “world’s largest remaining untapped gas reserves and some of its largest undeveloped oil reserves,” says the WWF. In face of the current “oil shock,” the five nations that border the Arctic Ocean — Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the U.S. — all want a slice of this lucrative “ice” spot.
Late last May, these five rival nations met in Greenland to resolve these competing claims. The convention reaffirmed rules laid out by the UN Law of the Sea Convention, which draws national boundaries based on geological features. The UN is expected to oversee decisions on Arctic control by 2020.
Climate change has a big role in increasing the appeal of the Arctic. Rising temperatures rapidly melt the Arctic ice, which increase drilling and shipping access during summer months. Eventually, this will even open up “a route through the Arctic Ocean linking the Atlantic and Pacific that would reduce the sea journey from New York to Singapore by thousands of miles,” says The Telegraph.
Absent from the meeting were environmental groups, who “said the closed-door meeting paved the way for a land grab by countries who have claims to the continental shelf at the pole,” according to The Guardian.
Environmentalists also object to the environmental dangers of drilling.
John Calder, the director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Arctic Research Division, warns not only of the landscape destruction and negative impacts on the indigenous Arctic villages due to infrastructure development, but also the calamitous effects of oil accidents:
Oil spills are especially dangerous in the Arctic, because its cold and heavily season-dependent ecosystems take a long time to recover. Besides, it is very difficult to remove the damage from oil spills in remote and cold regions, especially in parts of the ocean where there is ice.