USA, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway & the Arctic

Reply Fri 22 Aug, 2008 11:09 am
‘A Whole New World’
(Tony Hopfinger, Newsweek Web Exclusive, Aug 21, 2008)

A weather-beaten milepost stands like a weather vane in the center of Barrow, Alaska, reminding all that you don't end up in America's northernmost town by accident. Arrows point in all directions: Paris--4,086 miles; Chicago--3,000 miles; Los Angeles--2,945 miles; Greenland--1,520 miles; and the North Pole--just 1,311 miles from the shores of Barrow. Reachable only by airplane or ship, this remote town of 4,000, where the Inupiats still hunt whales, walrus and seals, is quickly becoming a U.S. stronghold in what's being called the last frontier on earth.

The warming Arctic Ocean is opening up to shipping, tourism and oil exploration, with the eight countries bordering its fringes all vying to claim their bounty in the natural resource-rich territory. Barrow, which the Eskimos call Ukpeagvik (place where owls are hunted), has a bird's eye view on it all. "It's a whole new world up here," says Edward Itta, an Eskimo whaling captain and the mayor of the North Slope Borough, which encompasses Barrow and seven other settlements across northern Alaska.

This year is shaping up to be one of the busiest ever in the Alaskan Arctic, with dignitaries visiting the far north, wildcatters searching for crude, and government researchers mapping the seafloor to determine how much of the ocean the United States might claim as its own. The attention comes as Washington revises its Arctic policy for the first time since 1994, and as the growing energy crisis becomes a bigger subject for the presidential campaign.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently made his first trip to the Arctic, quietly stopping in Barrow with U.S. Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen to assess the agency's future mission up north. The day before Chertoff arrived, three ships, contracted by Imperial Oil Ltd., were briefly trapped in sea ice 60 miles from Barrow, while on their way to hunt for crude off the Canadian coastline. Meantime, a Chinese research vessel was wandering off the northwest coast of Alaska.

Back in Barrow, townspeople wondered whether a boatload of Germans was going to show up for the second straight year--an odd Arctic occurrence, as telling of the climatic changes happening to their surroundings as reports of polar bears drowning off their shores. Last summer, German tourists showed up in Barrow unannounced. They'd come aboard a cruise ship that had managed to sail from Europe via the Northwest Passage--that fabled passageway slicing across the top of Canada, which until recently, was almost always ice choked in summertime.

The increasing ship traffic hasn't been lost on the Coast Guard. The agency is carrying out training exercises in Barrow this summer, realizing that it may need a permanent summer presence at the top of the world, to respond to potential oil spills, shipping accidents and distress calls. "Thirteen percent of the world's untapped oil is up there," says Captain Mike Inman, chief of response for the Coast Guard's 17th District in Alaska. "That alone will drive what the Coast Guard's mission is in Barrow in the years to come."

More pressing though, is how the United States will keep pace in what is becoming an all-out race to claim vast swaths of the Arctic. Last summer, a Russian submarine planted a flag on the sea floor at the North Pole. The expedition's leader, Artur Chilingarov, proudly proclaimed afterwards, "The Arctic is ours."

"We have explorers in our history like Daniel Boone. The Russians have guys like Chilingarov, who for 40 years has been one of the leading Arctic explorers in the world," says Mead Treadwell, chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. "We've ignored the Arctic for years, sometimes at our peril."

At issue is whether the United States should ratify a treaty that governs ocean rights extending off the coastlines of nations, and thus the natural resources and fisheries that lurk below. Under international law, the United States already holds a 200-nautical-mile zone from its shores. According to an international treaty called the Law of the Sea, the United States could claim an even larger swath if it can show that the Alaskan continental shelf extends beyond the 200-mile limit.

But the United States is the only Arctic nation that hasn't ratified the treaty. "We do expect to become a party in the near future, perhaps this year or in the next couple of years," Margaret Hays, director of the oceanic affairs office at the U.S. State Department, told reporters in a conference call last week.

This month, the Coast Guard has already dispatched its cutter, Healy, northward of Barrow to map the Alaskan shelf, which may extend more than 600 miles from the shore---three times farther than the current limit. "We have at least a California-size territory to claim," Treadwell notes.

Oil is the major prize hiding beneath that vast territory, as dwindling oil discoveries and record demand have pushed explorers into more remote and more hostile regions.

Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey released a survey estimating that the Arctic may hold 90-billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic-feet of natural gas, with a third of this being undiscovered crude off the shores of Alaska. That's enough oil to supply Americans for 12 years.

Oil companies have known for decades of the Arctic's potential, and two firms have already sunk huge investments to find the black stuff. London-based BP is set to become the first company to develop an offshore oil field in federal waters in the Alaskan Arctic. The company announced last month that it will spend $1.5 billion to extract 100-million barrels at its Liberty oil field, located six miles offshore of Alaska. Much of Alaska's federal waters have been open to oil exploration for decades, but the spike in prices, coupled with new drilling techniques--BP says it will drill the world's longest wells to tap Liberty--have companies rethinking the Arctic.

Royal Dutch Shell is especially bullish. "We believe the Alaska offshore is home to some of the most prolific, undeveloped hydrocarbon basins in the world," said Pete Slaiby, Shell's Alaska general manager, in a statement. The company has spent $2.2 billion in recent years, acquiring offshore oil leases in Alaska. But exploring its prospects is proving near impossible. Not because of the Arctic's harsh conditions, but because of lawsuits. Environmentalists and the North Slope Borough have sued the company, claiming Shell is unprepared for an oil spill in icy waters, and that noise from its operations may harm whales and other marine mammals.

Itta, the mayor of the North Slope Borough, isn't against drilling on land. In fact, Barrow sits just a few hundred miles west of America's biggest oil fields, and Itta says the oil development has been good for the borough. But when it comes to drilling in the ocean, he's hesitant to throw his support. Itta calls the ocean his people's "garden," where they get much of their food, including bowhead whales. Although bowheads are listed as endangered, the federal government grants Alaskan Natives an exemption, to hunt a limited number for subsistence purposes. Last year, Barrow and other Alaskan villages took 42 bowhead whales.

Most residents here welcome anything that might make life a little bit easier. Despite the oil fields to the east of Barrow and the unprocessed fuel sitting under the nearby ocean floor, people rely on an annual shipment of high-priced fuel by barge. A gallon of unleaded gas currently costs $4.45, and residents fear the price will soon spike, because it costs more money to ship the gasoline by barge. That may mean a slowdown in hunting, as residents struggle to fill the gas tanks on their four-wheelers, snowmobiles and outboard motors. "The only thing that stands between us and a subsistence lifestyle is the price of gas," says Marvin Olson, the public works director for the North Slope Borough.

The global energy crunch can also be felt at AC Value Center, the main grocery store in Barrow, where everything has to be shipped in. This week, a gallon of milk will set you back $9.99, a dozen eggs cost $4.39 and a 10-pound bag of flour goes for $16.99.

"It's like we're bearing the brunt here and getting nothing in return," Itta says. Those high prices are likely to remain the norm, but perhaps renewed interest and economic development in the region will help local residents be in better shape to afford them.
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Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2008 02:05 am

Not the Arctic, but hey...


from the BBC site today, another seabed claim.
Reply Sun 31 Aug, 2008 11:42 am

should we accept that the arctic has become an island as an interesting but unimportant news item ?
are there any lessons to be larned from that or do we all know enough about
this subject to be able to scoff at it ?
imo it does not bode well for the future of mankind ... but what do i really know ?
btw similar articles were recently published elsewhere also - not just by the telegraph .

Arctic becomes an island as ice melts

By Auslan Cramb
Last Updated: 4:01pm BST 31/08/2008

The North Pole has become an island for the first time in human history as climate change has made it possible to circumnavigate the Arctic ice cap.

Global warming has caused the Arctic icecap to retreat from neigbouring continents creating opening a gap

The historic development was revealed by satellite images taken last week showing that both the north-west and north-east passages have been opened by melting ice.

Prof Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in the US said the images suggested the Arctic may have entered a "death spiral" caused by global warming.

Shipping companies are already planning to exploit the first simultaneous opening of the routes since the beginning of the last Ice Age 125,000 years ago. The Beluga Group in Germany says it will send the first ship through the north-east passage, around Russia, next year, cutting 4,000 miles off the voyage from Germany to Japan.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, has announced that ships entering the north-west passage should first report to his government. The routes have previously opened at different times, with the western route opening last year, and the eastern route opening in 2005.

advertisementThe satellite images gathered by Nasa show that the north-west passage opened last weekend and the final blockage on the east side of the ice cap, an area of sea ice stretching to Siberia, dissolved a few days later.

Last year the extent of sea ice in the Arctic reached a record low that could be surpassed in the next few weeks, with some scientists warning that the ice cap could soon vanish altogether during summer.

Four weeks ago tourists had to be evacuated from a park on Baffin Island because of flooding caused by melting glaciers, and polar bears have been spotted off Alaska trying to swim hundreds of miles to the retreating ice cap.

Measurements on August 26 showed an ice cap of just over two million square miles, confirming the second biggest ice cap melt since records began. New of the opening of the passages emerged as the British explorer and adventurer Lewis Gordon Pugh began a kayak expedition to the North Pole aimed at drawing attention to the dramatic impact of melting polar ice.

"I want to bring home to world leaders, on this expedition, the reality of what is now happening here in the Arctic," said the 38-year-old environmentalist in his blog.

"The rate of change is clearly faster than nearly all the models predict, which has huge implications for climate change and how to tackle it."

Meanwhile Prof James Lovelock, of the University of Oxford, has claimed "planet-scale engineering of the climate" may have to be attempted to counter global warming.

Global warming has caused the Arctic icecap to retreat from neigbouring continents creating opening a gap

Walter Hinteler
Reply Fri 24 Aug, 2018 08:17 am
[urlhttps://www.reuters.com/article/us-arctic-shipping-maersk/maersk-sends-first-container-ship-through-arctic-route-idUSKCN1L91BR?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews]Maersk sends first container ship through Arctic route[/url]
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A Maersk vessel loaded with Russian fish and South Korean electronics will next week become the first container ship to navigate an Arctic sea route that Russia hopes will become a new shipping highway.

The Arctic voyage by the 3,600 20-foot container capacity Venta Maersk is the latest step in the expansion of the so-called Northern Sea Route which is becoming more accessible to ships as climate change reduces the amount of sea ice.

The brand new Venta Maersk, one of the world’s largest ice-class vessels, will also collect scientific data, said Maersk, underlining that the voyage is a one-off trial for now.

The decision by Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping group, to test out the route is a positive sign for Russia, which hopes this could become a mini Suez Canal, cutting sea transport times from Asia to Europe.

“A well-respected company like Maersk sending a container ship through the Arctic, definitely signals there’s something there,” Malte Humpert, a senior fellow at U.S.-based think-tank Arctic Institute, said.

For a graphic link, click tmsnrt.rs/2hQpiTy

The Northern Sea Route runs from Murmansk near Russia’s border with Norway to the Bering Strait near Alaska. Ships sailing it require a permit from Russian authorities.

While the route is significantly shorter than going via the Suez Canal, it has not yet proven to be commercially viable for container shippers.

“Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to our usual routes,” a spokeswoman for Maersk said.

“Today, the passage is only feasible for around three months a year which may change with time,” the spokeswoman said.

Sea ice around the North Pole reaches its biggest area at the end of the winter in March, and thaws to an annual minimum in September. The ice has shrunk in recent decades in a trend scientists have linked to man-made climate change.

In the past, more expensive ice-classed vessels, higher transit fees, unpredictable ice coverage, high insurance rates, a lack of search and rescue teams, and hefty fees for Russian ice-breaker escorts have put off many international shipping firms.

But Russian officials have said there is strong interest in the sea route from Asian countries and that new icebreakers will allow for year-round navigation in the 2020s.

The Venta Maersk left Vladivostok on Russia’s east coast on Thursday and is scheduled to depart Busan, South Korea, early next week. It will then pass through the Bering strait around Sept. 1 with expected arrival in St. Petersburg on the Baltic by end-September.

Russia is building new roads and a railway and overhauling its ports in an expansion of its freight capacity to prepare for a potential increase in shipping traffic along its Arctic coast.

“This is a matter of national pride ... if Russia wants to maintain strong, economic development, the Northern Sea Route is part of that,” Humpert said.

The Venta Maersk will be the first container ship to sail the route, but other types of vessels have already used it, including Maersk’s Chinese rival COSCO, according to the Arctic Institute.

Russian natural gas producer Novatek delivered the first ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo to China via the Northern Sea Route in July.

In January, China revealed ambitions to create a “Polar Silk Road” by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming and encouraging enterprises to build infrastructure in the Arctic.
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