Anti energy groups look to block Arctic drilling


In a few days' time, officials at the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum in Greenland will reveal the winners of a new round of licences to drill for oil and gas in its waters. The announcement promises to be explosive.

Among those waiting are most of the world's leading oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell and Norway's StatOil. Watching with equal attention will be the planet's leading green groups, who they have pledged to block every effort to drill in the Arctic.

"The Arctic is the last pristine refuge in the northern hemisphere and it is simply not acceptable for oil companies to come here to drill and risk triggering a disaster that would dwarf the Deepwater Horizon spill," said Ben Ayliffe, senior energy campaigner at Greenpeace. Its ship, the Esperanza, is currently trying to disrupt drilling in the Davis Strait off the Greenland mainland. "We are going to make a real fight of this,"he said.

Last week the future of drilling in the Arctic hit the headlines when it emerged that BP, in the wake of the disastrous oil spill off America's Gulf Coast, would not be bidding for contracts in the region. But the other oil giants will. And it is not hard to understand why.

Last year, the US Geological Survey estimated that there were more than 90bn barrels of oil beneath the Arctic seabed – an estimated 13% of the world's undiscovered reserves – with the waters around Greenland, as well as the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, pinpointed as the most promising zones.

Only a handful of test wells have been sunk so far, and no oil has yet been discovered. Oil companies are confident of success, however, while environmentalists are grimly resigned to the idea of wells being sunk. Greenland, Beaufort and Chukchi are all likely to become sites of future drilling – and of major battles with ecologists.

The irony of this battle is not lost on environmentalists. At present, increased fossil fuel emissions are raising global temperatures and melting ice caps, a process that is making it much easier to drill for fossil fuels, as ice sheets break apart and expose shallower waters in the far north.

There is little to suggest that the oil companies seeking to drill in the Arctic would handle the job in such a way that would precipitate a spill worse than the BP Gulf blowout. It is not in their interest to let that happen and if it did they now know how to deal with it much more effectively. Clearly they will use a more effective blowout preventer to begin with.


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