The European Parliament this week voted to ban drilling for oil in the Arctic. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the global average and sea ice has been shrinking significantly since 1981, to about 40% less than its summer extent 35 years ago.
The WWF state:
“The Arctic is estimated to hold the world’s largest remaining untapped gas reserves and some of its largest undeveloped oil reserves. These reserves, if tapped, have implications for the global climate, and for the Arctic environment.”
“A significant proportion of these reserves lie offshore, in the Arctic’s shallow and biologically productive shelf seas. Oil spills, whether from blowouts, pipeline leaks or shipping accidents, pose a tremendous risk to arctic ecosystems. Marine ecosystems are particularly vulnerable.”
MEPs were concerned that as the melting ice cap opens up new navigation and fishing routes and competition for its natural resources would escalate.
Sirpa Pietikainen, MEP Finland, said:
“The Arctic region is very sensitive and vulnerable. If we destroy this area by using the resources there unsustainably, we shall not only be destroying a unique region, but also accelerating climate change and polluting a source of clean water. The effects on global fish stocks would also be catastrophic“.
” major companies like Shell and Exxon are making aggressive moves to usher in a new “oil rush” in the Arctic Ocean. In some places it has already begun. Russian oil giant Gazprom has already begun producing small amounts of oil from the Arctic in the ocean north of Russia.”
The Arctic is not an empty wasteland. Over 4 million people live in the region. Whales and marine mammals abound. They will be adversely affected by increased ocean noise from exploration and drilling.
Arctic fishing is also under threat due to the increased threat of pollution. No oil spill has ever been successfully cleaned up.
“There is no proven effective method for containing and cleaning up an oil spill in icy water.” (WWF)
MEPs also pointed out the geopolitical importance of the Arctic region. By 2015 Russia “had established at least six new bases north of the Arctic Circles, including six deep-water ports and 13 airfields.”
Also stressed in the debate was the importance of the Arctic Council of : Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland,Norway , Russia, Sweden and the USA. The Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic region are also represented.
Drilling for Oil in the Arctic might seem to be something happening in a distant place far from you. The harmful effects it could have on the indigenous people of the region, the impact it will have on the flora and fauna of the area and the dreadful consequences of any oil spill should make us all sit up and take notice, no matter where on the planet we live.