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Black Gold and the Ice

Aug 27, 2008
It's a rare business plan that involves visiting the pale severity of the Arctic, but for those companies that do send their employees into the wilderness the return can be sizable. For these companies it's not what's visible in this fragile, remote and utterly unique portion of the world, but rather what is hidden, beneath the surface, swirling in giant lakes; the dark liquor of the deep earth that yells up to the oil prospectors through the ice, apparently desperate to be pumped upwards and put to use in our cars and factories.

The search for oil has long defined man's interaction with the Arctic, but a new report by the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research describes how, in somewhat of a closed system, the results of the climate change caused by fossils fuels such as oil will make future efforts to clean up after oil spills even more difficult.

The report also suggests that such spills may become more likely in the future, as climate change will stir up rougher seas, making the already difficult to navigate shipping routes even more dangerous.

Environmental groups, such as the WWF, are calling for a total ban on oil prospecting in regions where the oil companies' strategies for spill cleanup are not credible. The Arctic fields pose two very specific problems; first that oil that has seeped beneath the ice is impossible to clear up, and second that deploying the technologies needed to clear up the oil is extremely difficult in the constant darkness that befalls the Arctic Circle for some of the year.

As oilfields dry up, and the yearning for oil continues, there is growing concern that oil companies will be more and more adventurous in their hunt for the bounty. To the dismay of environmental groups, global warming is actually making hitherto unreachable Arctic oil fields accessible, as ice breaks and recedes due to climate change.

The Northwest Passage is certainly more navigable now that at anytime in the past, as the warming climate turns solid ice into water. Research conducted by the Naval Postgraduate School, in California, recently estimated the Arctic sea could be completely free of ice by 2013.

It's an off-colour irony that this sad fact will possibly benefit those companies that are most culpable for changing the face of our planet.

The influence, and outright corruption, that some of the major oil companies are able to exert on policy makers is nowhere more striking, nor tragic, that in the case of their interaction with the Arctic. In Alaska, the National Interests Lands Conservation Act of 1980 created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area where wildlife and landscape were meant to be protected against the gluttony of the oil men.

The Act contained a contentious section; section 1002, which deferred a ruling on whether the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain could be drilled into. In 1987 the Department of the Interior completed a report that outlined the probable and proven resources of the area, through use of seismic processing (itself a controversial technique, due to the fact that it disturbs bears and has been directly linked with instances of mother bears abandoning their cubs) and other geophysical data. Since that report was presented many wells have been pierced down close to ANWR and it was no surprise to environmental groups when, in 2001, the esteemed Bush administration suggested that drilling inside the reserve to be a logical solution to America's energy shortages.
About the Author
Martin Gavin is an environment writer for ecoswitch, the green comparison website
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