The Arctic, as the world’s northernmost region, is surely distinctive. It is almost entirely covered by water, much of it frozen. Some frozen features, such as glaciers and icebergs, are frozen freshwater. In fact, the glaciers and icebergs in the Arctic make up about 20% of the Earth’s supply of freshwater. Temperatures in the Arctic can drop below-50 degrees Celsius in the winter. It is home to unique vegetation and creatures, such as ermines, wolverines, and narwhals.
As a unique natural habitat, it is the focus of environmental attention, not least because the effects of global warming are most visible here, with the melting of polar ice caps. However, there is no international treaty preserving its ecology from economic development.
Who actually controls the Arctic? Who has the authority to drill for oil in that area? It’s a topic that’s raging across the globe. While there are eight Arctic states, the North Pole and its surrounding waters are not owned by any of them. Norway, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, the United States, Canada, and Denmark all have territory and territorial waters within the Arctic Circle. Norway, Western Europe’s largest oil producer, has given a number of exploration licences in the Barents Sea, just within the Arctic Circle, since 2016.
Six young Norwegians and two environmental groups, Greenpeace Nordic and Young Friends of the Earth, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2021, challenging the Norwegian government’s policies. Drilling, according to Lasse Eriksen Bjoern, an activist for the indigenous Sami people of northern Norway, might harm Arctic fisheries and jeopardise their way of life. It is the cry of the activists that the court’s verdict sets a precedent for the future.
The survival of the people and animals that live in the Arctic is dependent on its unique habitat. Ever since businesses put money into new technology, it has suddenly been conceivable to dig for oil beneath the seafloor. Concerns about rapidly diminishing fish stocks in the area developed in the mid-1990s.
Whales, dolphins, seals, and sea otters are among the marine creatures killed by oil spills. Oil can plug whale and dolphin blowholes, preventing them from breathing correctly and interfering with their ability to communicate. The oil on otters’ and seals’ fur makes them sensitive to hypothermia.
One of the most far-reaching environmental repercussions of oil spills is long-term damage to species, their habitats, and nesting or breeding grounds. Sea turtles, for example, can be affected by oil in the water or on the beach where they lay their eggs, and newly hatched turtles can be oiled as they rush toward the ocean on an oily beach.
Major oil companies such as Shell and Exxon are aggressively pursuing a fresh “oil rush” in the Arctic Ocean. It has already started in some places. Gazprom, the Russian energy behemoth, has already started producing tiny volumes of oil from the Arctic Ocean north of Russia.
The argument over Arctic oil exploration is sparked by more than the environment. The topic of cost is particularly important, not least because building an oil well in cold temperatures is quite difficult. It is necessary to construct ice highways and an ice airstrip. All in all, drilling and development is not a cost-effective enterprise.
Arctic Oil Drilling. (n.d.). Greenpeace. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
What Are the Challenges of Drilling for Oil in the Arctic? (n.d.). Petro Industry News. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
Who owns the Arctic and should they drill for oil and gas? (2022, April 28). BBC. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
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