Friday, 21 September 2012

The Arctic is home to 13% of the world’s remaining oil and 30% of the world’s remaining natural gas

Race is on for Arctic treasures

The jockeying among nations has begun as areas of the Arctic once regarded as barren wastelands now offer an abundance of oil, gas and minerals. China has its eyes on some of these resources, especially rare earth metals that are crucial for new technologies such as cellphones and military guidance systems.

China has become an aggressive player in the Arctic, where waters could be ice-free in summer by the end of the decade and climate change has extended the work season by a month.
China has become an aggressive player in the Arctic, where waters could be ice-free in summer by the end of the decade and climate change has extended the work season by a month.
ANDREW TESTA/New York Times
NUUK, GREENLAND With Arctic ice melting at record pace, the world’s superpowers are increasingly jockeying for political influence and economic position in outposts like this one, previously regarded as barren wastelands.
At stake are the Arctic’s abundant supplies of oil, gas and minerals that are, thanks to climate change, becoming newly accessible along with increasingly navigable polar shipping shortcuts. This year, China has become a far more aggressive player in this frigid field, experts say, provoking alarm among Western powers.
While the United States, Russia and several nations of the European Union have Arctic territory, China has none, and as a result, has been deploying its wealth and diplomatic clout to secure toeholds in the region.
“The Arctic has risen rapidly on China’s foreign policy agenda in the past two years,” said Linda Jakobson, East Asia program director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia. So, she said, the Chinese are exploring “how they could get involved.”
In August, China sent its first ship across the Arctic to Europe and it is lobbying intensely for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, the loose international body of eight Arctic nations that develops policy for the region, arguing that it is a “near Arctic state” and proclaiming that the Arctic is “the inherited wealth of all humankind,” in the words of China’s State Oceanic Administration.
To promote the council bid and improve relations with Arctic nations, its ministers visited Denmark, Sweden and Iceland this summer, offering lucrative trade deals. High-level diplomats have also visited Greenland, where Chinese companies are investing in a developing mining industry, with proposals to import Chinese work crews for construction.
Western nations have been particularly anxious about Chinese overtures to this poor and sparsely populated island, a self-governing state within the Kingdom of Denmark, because the retreat of its ice cap has unveiled coveted mineral deposits, including rare earth metals that are crucial for new technologies like cellphones and military guidance systems.
A European Union vice president, Antonio Tajani, rushed here to Greenland’s capital in June, offering hundreds of millions in development aid in exchange for guarantees that Greenland would not give China exclusive access to its rare earth metals, calling his trip “raw mineral diplomacy.”
Greenland is close to North America, and home to the United States Air Force’s northernmost base in Thule. At a conference last month, Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, said the Arctic as becoming “a new frontier in our foreign policy.”
In the past 18 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea have made debut visits here, and Greenland’s prime minister, Kuupik Kleist, was welcomed by President José Manuel Barroso of the European Commission in Brussels.
“We are treated so differently than just a few years ago,” said Jens B. Frederiksen, Greenland’s vice premier, and one of only several dozen Greenlandic officials, in his simple office here. “We are aware that is because we now have something to offer, not because they’ve suddenly discovered that Inuit are nice people.”
Chinese activity in the Arctic to some extent mirrors that of other non-Arctic countries, as the region warms.
The European Union, Japan and South Korea have also applied in the last three years for permanent observer status at the Arctic Council, which would allow them to present their perspective, but not vote.
This once-obscure body, previously focused on issues like monitoring Arctic animal populations, now has more substantive tasks, like defining future port fees and negotiating agreements on oil spill remediation.
“We’ve changed from a forum to a decision-making body,” said Gustaf Lind, Arctic ambassador from Sweden and the council’s current chairman.
But China sees its inclusion “as imperative so that it won’t be shut out from decisions on minerals and shipping,” said Jakobson, who is also an Arctic researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China’s economy is heavily dependent on exports and the polar route saves time, distance and money to and from elsewhere in Asia and Europe, compared with traversing the Suez Canal.
So far there has been little actual exploitation of Arctic resources. Greenland has only one working mine, though more than 100 new sites are being mapped out. Here, as well as in Alaska, Canada and Norway, oil and gas companies are still largely exploring, although experts estimate that more than 20 per cent of the world’s oil and gas reserves are in the Arctic. Warmer weather has already extended the work season by a month in many locations, making access easier.
At one point this summer, 97 per cent of the surface of Greenland’s massive ice sheet was melting. At current rates, Arctic waters could be ice-free in summer by the end of the decade, scientists say.
“Things are happening much faster than what any scientific model predicted,” said Morten Rasch, who runs the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring program at Aarhus University in Denmark.
Ownership of the Arctic is governed by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, which gives Arctic nations an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles from land, and to undersea resources farther away so long as they are on a continental shelf.
The far northern Arctic Ocean belongs to no country, and conditions there are severe. In a place where exact boundaries were never much of a concern, haggling over borders has begun among the primary nations — between Canada and Denmark, and the United States and Canada, for example.
Chinese companies, some with close government ties, are investing heavily across the Arctic. In Canada, Chinese firms have acquired interests in two oil companies that could afford them access to Arctic drilling. During a June visit to Iceland, Premier Wen Jiabao of China signed a number of economic agreements, covering areas like geothermal energy and free trade.
In Greenland, large Chinese companies are financing the development of mines that are being developed around discoveries of gems or minerals by small prospecting companies, said Soren Meisling, head of the China desk at the Bech Bruun law firm in Copenhagen, which represents many of them.
A huge iron ore mine under development near Nuuk, for example, is owned by a British company but financed in part by a Chinese steelmaker.
The efforts have clear political backing. Greenland’s minister for industry and mineral resources was greeted by Vice Premier Li Keqiang in China last November. A few months later, China’s minister of land and resources, Xu Shaoshi, travelled to Greenland to sign co-operation agreements.
Western analysts have worried that China could leverage its wealth, particularly in some of the cash-poor corners of the Arctic like Greenland and Iceland.
But Chinese officials have cast their motives in more generous terms. “China’s activities are for the purposes of regular environmental investigation and investment and have nothing to do with resource plundering and strategic control,” the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency wrote this year.
Michael Byers, a professor of politics and law at the University of British Columbia, said the Chinese were unlikely to overstep their rights in a region populated by NATO members.
“Despite the concerns I have about Chinese foreign policy in other parts of the world, in the Arctic it is behaving responsibly,” he said. “They just want to make money.”
Next February, the Arctic Council is scheduled to choose the countries that will be granted permanent observer status, which requires unanimity vote. Iceland, Denmark and Sweden now openly support China’s bid.
New York Times News Service 12/09/2012

Peak Oil


Artic Sea Ice Volume

Figure 8 - Arctic sea ice volume in June tells a much worse story than coverage alone.  June ice volume in 2012 was less than half of the ice volume seen in 1980.  June ice volume loss appears to be accelerating.

The Good News

So is this the end of the world?  Or is it just an interesting but ultimately unimportant phenomenon we get to observe?  Could it even be an opportunity?
First, some good news. The melting Arctic ice will not cause sea levels to rise to any noticeable degree.  The Statue of Liberty isn’t about to be reduced to a head and single upraised arm, forlornly holding her torch just above water. The Arctic ice cap is sea ice.  It floats already.  And just as a melting ice cube in your drink doesn’t raise the overall level of fluid in the glass, the melting of floating ice in the Arctic won’t directly raise sea levels.  (This is quite different from the effect of land-based ice, such as that on Greenland or Antarctica. The melting of ice that is currently sitting on land does raise sea levels. But such ice is also far harder to melt.)
More good news, or at least the absence of terrible news: The melting Arctic ice is unlikely to suddenly stop the “deep ocean conveyor”, the current that brings warm water to Europe and keeps the continent – much of which is at the same latitude as Canada – fairly warm and temperate. While the deep ocean conveyor belt, also known as the thermohaline circulation, does appear to be slowing a bit, calculations show that the amount of fresh water needed to stop it is far greater than the amount of water currently trapped in Arctic ice.   (A breakdown of the thermohaline circulation, by the way, is the vague explanation given for the rather jumbled science of the movie The Day After Tomorrow. So, among other good news, take note that you won’t need Dennis Quaid to snowshoe across a frozen landscape to come to your rescue.)
Finally, good economic and natural resource news: The receding ice will open up new trade routes, making it easier, cheaper, faster, and more efficient to ship goods between northern Europe, Canada, Russia, and the United States.  Cargo that once had to be placed on ships that passed through either the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal will now, in many cases, have a shorter route – one that saves on both time and fuel.
The opening up of the Arctic will also open up exploration for minerals and for fossil fuels.  The US Geological Survey estimates that the region has the world’s largest remaining untapped reservoirs of oil and natural gas – as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and almost 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Those numbers would make the Arctic home to 13% of the world’s remaining oil and 30% of the world’s remaining natural gas.  And that is a very rich prize, spurring investment in exploration, and increasing jockeying between the world’s powers – including some countries, like China, that don’t even have a physical presence in the Arctic – to gain access to those resources.
Tapping those minerals and oil and natural gas would be an economic boon to communities in the Arctic. It would also be a win for the global economy as a whole, helping to keep energy prices lower by bringing new supply to market.  But of course, burning that oil and natural gas would also accelerate climate change – the very process that has set the Arctic on the path to melting.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

a bit alarmist ; i agree that we've got to prepare for things though


artic ice update

up to 2009 - shows overall shrinking (growing and shrinking is due to seasonal melt)

ANTARTIC


ARCTIC


Re video below

SEEING IS BELIEVING - note I think the implicated end of the world after the ice melt is untrue, the gasses released will contribute to greenhouse warming and sea level rise, the extend of which, I think, is largely unknown.

REFERENCE TO RAINFOREST DEPLETION - Anything burned releases greenhouse gasses - the destruction of the rainforests means that the Earth does not have enough vegetation which generates the oxygen we breathe.