POLI 369B(3): International Politics of the Arctic (Winter 2015)
For decades, the Arctic was on the frontlines of the Cold War. Today, the region is changing at an unprecedented rate due to climate change, the extraction of natural resources, and the efforts of coastal states to secure offshore jurisdictional claims. This upper-year undergraduate course canvasses a range of political and legal issues, from the disputes over Hans Island and the boundary in the Beaufort Sea, to shipping in the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, to the assertion of sovereign rights over areas of seabed more than 200 nautical miles from shore, to the protection of high seas fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The environmental, security and geopolitical dimensions of a rapidly opening Arctic will also be considered, along with the role of indigenous peoples and the Arctic Council.
Tucked a mountain on a remote Arctic island, beneath several hundred feet of rock and a near-constant blanket of snow, two imposing steel doors lock out the wind and bitter cold. Behind them, a long tunnel leads to a series of quiet, concrete rooms. Austere fluorescent bulbs illuminate thousands of black boxes crowded upon row after row of shelves, each box packed to the brim with dozens of heat-sealed silver packets.
In each packet is a handful of sleeping seeds — the last-resort guarantors of the future of our food.
ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER HEALY, IN THE ARCTIC–
When you plow into a 4-foot-thick chunk of sea ice at 3 knots, even in a 16,000-ton state-of-the-art icebreaker like the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy, it’s hard not to notice. The whole ship shudders and seems to lurch sideways. Metal cabinets rattle. Californians swear it sounds and feels just like an earthquake, with deep rumbling booms and tremors. Others say it’s like hitting turbulence on a jetliner, the shivering and rattling accompanied by the overdrive whine of 30,000 horsepower. If you’re down in the galley, right on the waterline, what you hear is the nerve-wracking scraping of shattered ice along the side. Five stories up, on top of the bridge, you feel the bump of the collision over the strain of the engines pushing the ship through a sea of drifting white, blue, and dirty gray ice.
Steven Lee Myers & Clifford Krauss, New York Times, 7 September 2015
TERIBERKA, Russia — The warming Arctic should already have transformed this impoverished fishing village on the coast of the Barents Sea.
The Kremlin spent billions in the last decade in hopes of turning it into a northern hub of its energy powerhouse, Gazprom. It was once the most ambitious project planned in the Arctic Ocean, but now there is little to show for it aside from a shuttered headquarters and an enormous gravel road carved out of the windblown coastline like a scar.
“There are plans,” said Viktor A. Turchaninov, the village’s mayor, “but the facts — the realities of life — suggest the opposite.”
US officials want to make sure companies can handle a blow-out in remote and icy conditions – without inflicting an environmental disaster
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 20 February 2015
The Obama administration proposed new rules for Arctic oil drilling on Friday in an attempt to avoid repeating Shell’s disastrous foray into extreme waters.
The proposals, shaped by the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the grounding of Shell’s drill ship in the Arctic two years later, are aimed at making sure companies could handle a blow-out in remote and icy conditions – without inflicting an environmental disaster on the pristine seas.
The hype over the Arctic recedes, along with the summer ice
The Economist, January 31, 2015
THE Arctic is hot,” joked a Swedish diplomat in 2012. Not any more. In the past six months, the trends that had made it a centre of global attention have changed. It still matters, mainly for environmental reasons. But a surge of interest in its economy and politics has ebbed.
“I need to use the drones … to go on long patrols and be our eyes in the sky in the Arctic.”
So said the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant General Yvan Blondin, in testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.
Blondin went on to explain that he wanted a drone “that is flexible, that … when we go to Afghanistan, allows me [to] carry some weapons on it.”
Now here’s the thing. That latter statement, about the desire for drones that can carry weapons, was much more forthright than the asserted need for Arctic drones. Canada, in fact, already has reliable Arctic surveillance capabilities in place.
When Statoil acquired the last of three licenses off Greenland’s west coast in January 2012, oil at more than $110 a barrel made exploring the iceberg-ridden waters an attractive proposition.
Less than two years later, the price of oil had been cut by almost half and Norway’s Statoil, the world’s most active offshore Arctic explorer in 2014, relinquished its interest in all three licenses in December without drilling a single well, Knut Rostad, a spokesman for the state-controlled company, said by e-mail.
Statoil’s decision shows how the plunge in oil, with Brent crude trading at about $45 a barrel, has dealt another blow to companies and governments hoping to tap the largely unexplored Arctic. That threatens to demote the importance of a region already challenged by high costs, environmental concerns, technological obstacles and, in the case of Russia, international sanctions.
McKenzie Funk, New York Times Magazine, December 30, 2014
In 2005, Royal Dutch Shell, then the fourth-largest company on Earth, bought a drill rig that was both tall, rising almost 250 feet above the waterline, and unusually round. The hull of the Kulluk, as the rig was called, was made of 1.5-inch-thick steel and rounded to better prevent its being crushed. A 12-point anchor system could keep it locked in place above an oil well for a full day in 18-foot seas or in moving sea ice that was four feet thick. Its drill bit, dropped from a 160-foot derrick, could plunge 600 feet into the sea, then bore another 20,000 feet into the seabed, where it could verify the existence of oil deposits that were otherwise a geologist’s best guess. It had a sauna. It could go (in theory) where few other rigs could go, helping Shell find oil that (in theory) few other oil companies could find. ...