Greenland offshore oil

2010-08-30

in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment

In a development that seems to reinforce a number of ongoing trends, it seems there may be oil to exploit off the coast of Greenland. As with other places in the Arctic, the combination of new technologies, higher oil prices, and retreating ice is making it plausible to access fossil fuels that would once have been out of reach. At least as reported by The Economist, residents seem moderately intrigued by the prospects for increased wealth, but largely disinterested in the ongoing climate change that could profoundly transform the massive island:

Most of Greenland’s 56,000 inhabitants seem persuaded [that the risk from oil spills is acceptable]. Despite the vulnerability of the country’s ice sheet to global warming, a recent Greenpeace meeting in Nuuk drew a paltry 45 people. Even this minimal interest in the environmentalists’ message could fall further as the implications of this week’s news start to sink in.

Cairn Energy, a British oil and gas firm, already has an area designated for exploration which is thought to include 4 billion barrels of oil. United States Geological Survey data suggests that a total of 17 billion barrels may lie in the waters between Canada and Greenland.

As with so many issues related to climate change, there is an important disjuncture here between different relevant timescales. Whereas it is plausible that the next few decades could see the deployment of offshore oil and gas platforms in the Arctic – and at least the beginning of significant revenues from them – the warming of the climate will largely occur over a more extended span of time. Nevertheless, we have good reasons to believe that the emissions trajectory humanity is investing in right now is incompatible with the continued existence of the Greenland icesheet, though the disappearance will probably take centuries. Of course, that change will profoundly alter life in the region. At the same time, the seven metres of sea level rise embedded in that ice would surely prove problematic for many of the cities and nations that may find themselves benefitting from the use of Greenland’s oil and gas in the interim.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan August 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm

“As with so many issues related to climate change, there is an important disjuncture here between different relevant timescales. ”

Doesn’t the appropriate discounting of future utility dictate that the short timescale dominante in importance over the long one?

Milan August 30, 2010 at 5:43 pm

The discount rate has been discussed before.

More to the point, it is strange to point to an abstract concept within economics as justification for why we shouldn’t care about future generations. We should pass along a livable world because it is wrong not to, and not something we would have been happy to have our ancestors do to us.

. August 30, 2010 at 8:49 pm

With drilling stalled in the Gulf, Big Oil sets its sights on the Arctic

Sure, deepwater drilling is on hold in the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s about to go into high gear in the Arctic.

You know the drill: Last week, the Scottish company Cairn Energy announced that it had found natural gas deposits off the coast of Greenland, and right away there was talk of a new oil rush. As much as 20 percent of Earth’s untapped oil is thought to be in the Arctic, which is now more accessible than it’s ever because — Irony Alert! — so much of the polar ice has melted due to global warming caused by fossil fuels.

Within a week or so, Greenland’s government will grant licenses to explore along its coast — Shell, ExxonMobil, and Norway’s StatOil are reportedly chomping at the bit. Green groups are girding for an Arctic oil boom.

R.K. August 30, 2010 at 11:22 pm

I really doubt that woman is in Greenland.

. August 31, 2010 at 9:37 am

Greenpeace ‘boards Cairn platform’ off Greenland
31 August 2010 Last updated at 06:17 ET

Greenpeace has claimed to have boarded a Scottish company’s oil platform off Greenland.

The environmental campaign organisation said Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy’s rig had been boarded by four members.

Greenpeace said the climbers had enough supplies to occupy hanging tents for several days.

Cairn has so far not commented. The company had announced last week it had discovered gas off the coast of Greenland.

Greenpeace earlier raised concerns, in the wake of BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

Cris R August 31, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Well said Milan. Most people cannot see one week beyond their own greed.

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