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Oil drilling in the Arctic and its environmental ramifications

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The Arctic, as the northernmost region of the world, is certainly distinctive. It is almost completely covered in water, most of it frozen. Some frozen features, such as glaciers and icebergs, are frozen fresh water. In fact, Arctic glaciers and icebergs make up about 20% of the Earth’s fresh water supply. Temperatures in the Arctic can drop below -50 degrees Celsius in winter. It is home to unique vegetation and creatures, such as stoats, wolverines and narwhals.

As a unique natural habitat, it is at the center of environmental attention, not least because the effects of global warming are most visible here, with the melting of the polar ice caps. However, no international treaty preserves its ecology from economic development.

The case of oil drilling in Norway

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Who really controls the Arctic? Who has the power to drill oil in this area? This is a topic that rages around the world. Although there are eight Arctic states, the North Pole and its surrounding waters do not belong to 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 biggest oil producer, has granted a number of exploration licenses in the Barents Sea, just inside 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. The drilling, according to Lasse Eriksen Bjoern, an activist for the indigenous Sami people of northern Norway, could harm Arctic fisheries and jeopardize their way of life. It is the cry of activists that the court verdict sets a precedent for the future.

The impact of oil drilling on marine life

most marine life would be extinct due to climate change by 2300
The New York Times

The survival of people and animals that live in the Arctic depends on its unique habitat. Since companies are investing money in new technologies, it has suddenly become conceivable to dig for oil under the seabed. Concerns about rapidly declining fish stocks in the region grew in the mid-1990s.

Whales, dolphins, seals and sea otters are among the sea creatures killed by oil spills. Oil can clog the blowholes of whales and dolphins, preventing them from breathing properly and interfering with their ability to communicate. The oil on the fur of otters and seals makes them susceptible to hypothermia.

One of the most profound environmental impacts of oil spills is the 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 when they rush to the ocean on an oily beach.

Who drills in the Arctic?

arctic climate change
Getty Images

Major oil companies such as Shell and Exxon are aggressively pursuing a new “oil rush” in the Arctic Ocean. It has already started in some places. Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, has already started producing tiny volumes of oil from the Arctic Ocean north of Russia.

The argument over oil exploration in the Arctic is driven by more than the environment. The subject of cost is particularly important, especially because the construction of an oil well in cold weather is quite difficult. It is necessary to build ice highways and an ice airstrip. Overall, drilling and development is not a profitable business.

References

Oil drilling in the Arctic. (nd). green peace. Accessed May 20, 2022.

What are the challenges of oil drilling in the Arctic? (nd). Oil Industry News. Accessed May 20, 2022.

Who Owns the Arctic and Should They Drill for Oil and Gas? (2022, April 28). BBC. Accessed May 20, 2022.

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