Uncertainty in the Age of Arctic Expansion
A 2008 report by the US Geological Survey surmised that the Arctic holds approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of undiscovered natural gas, 84% of which is offshore. However, because of a lack of high-quality data, these remain mere estimates. According to John G. Aronson of AATA International, “Ultimately, we don’t really know just how much undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas exists in north of the Arctic Circle.”
What we do know is that the opening of the Arctic is the world’s top economic opportunity as well as one of the biggest environmental dilemmas facing our governments. Summer sea ice is declining at a rate that could lead to passable seas in under a decade, and, as a result, the Arctic is quickly becoming a major arena for competition between companies, investors, and nations. Dozens of organizations have developed standards for Arctic oil and gas exploration and development, and dozens of environmental groups have protested that same exploration and development. As if that weren’t enough, multiple governments are writing policies, funding projects, and waging battles to protect their own growing interests in the region.
In general, politicians and world leaders are beholden to industry when it comes to the Arctic. Whether boosting the economy of nations such as Russia or Norway or fighting for the interests of constituents in Alaska and Alberta, politicians have played the populist card over and over when it comes to the Arctic. Environmental groups influence the rest of the politicians, and a few of the world leaders, with many of these acknowledging that real change is occurring up north, and that what happens in the Arctic won’t stay in the Arctic.
Most recently, another voice is beginning to be heard: that of various armed forces around the globe. The American military doesn’t have the will of public funding behind them on this issue, but there is a growing realization among northern nations that an open Arctic Ocean, bereft of summer ice, ultimately represents a security issue.
In surveying available literature, the voice of reason in all of this clearly comes from the researchers and scientists gathering data from the Arctic. What do they think of what’s happening there, and what sorts of recommendations do they make about the near and the long term? Is there a compromise between infrastructure and environment that makes sense? What does the future hold north of the Arctic Circle?