Beijing may be playing it cool, but it sees its current role in the contested High North as just the tip of the iceberg
Ryan Kilpatrick, South China Morning Post, 15 November 2016
WASHED by the shallow waters of the Tumen River that divides Russia and North Korea, China’s Hunchun has few tourist attractions other than a coin-operated set of binoculars, on an elevated platform, that lets the occasional visitor survey the three neighbours’ only junction. But if business expands along Arctic shipping routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific, this obscure city of little more than 200,000 could become “an international shipping centre equal to Singapore”, Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, claimed last year.
China, having styled itself as a “near-Arctic nation”, is jockeying to play a greater role in the contested High North. Beijing attained permanent observer status to the intergovernmental Arctic Council in 2013, but experts say its ambitions are beyond those of a passive onlooker.
A Soviet-era SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile is set to crash in Canada’s Arctic, with some highly toxic fuel on board.
Michael Byers, National Post, 19 May 2016
The missile, modified to boost a satellite into orbit, will be launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia in early June. Minutes later, the first stage of the missile will plummet into the Barents Sea north of Norway. Shortly thereafter, the second stage of the missile will fall into Baffin Bay, just east of Canada’s Ellesmere Island.
That second stage could have hundreds of litres of leftover fuel on board. Rockets used for satellite launches rarely consume all their fuel because they are shut down by onboard computers once the desired speed and altitude are achieved.
The fuel used to power SS-19s is unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (hydrazine). A stable compound used to fuel missiles and power the thrusters used for manoeuvring satellites in space, hydrazine is so toxic that technicians wear pressurized hazmat suits when working with it. On contact with air, hydrazine degrades into another, even more toxic compound: nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).
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.
A faded, wind-torn Danish flag is mounted on the wall in the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Raised on Hans Island by Danish troops, the flag was later taken down by Canadian soldiers — and mailed back to Copenhagen.
But the ownership of tiny Hans Island is still "the subject of continuing discussion"
Nunatsiaq News, 29 November 2012
The ownership of Hans Island, a disputed 1.3 square-kilometre rock between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, remains unsettled, even after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, who is also minister of the Arctic Council for Canada, and Villy Søvndal, the Danish minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Denmark, met Nov. 28 in Ottawa.
But the ministers did come out of their talks to announce they had reached an agreement on where to establish the maritime boundary in the Lincoln Sea, the body of water north of Ellesmere Island and Greenland, they said.
Armed forces called in to prevent environmentalists interfering with Cairn Energy's exploration of Arctic waters
John Vidal, The Guardian, May 24, 2011
Armed Danish commandos are thought to have been landed on a giant oil rig by helicopter to prevent environmentalists interfering with a British oil company's controversial exploration of deep Arctic waters. In a stand-off in the Davis Strait, west of Greenland, the Danish navy has been shadowing the Greenpeace ship Esperanza as it tracked the 53,000 tonne Leiv Eiriksson in iceberg-strewn sea to the site where it plans to search for oil at depths of up to 5,000ft.
Ottawa - WHEN in the Arctic, you should at least treat your host well. Royal Dutch Shell, an oil giant, had to learn this the hard way when planning to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska a couple of years ago. The firm had spent $84m on offshore leases and had satisfied regulators. But it failed to win over the Inupiat, an Inuit group. They worried that icebreakers and drill ships would hurt the bowhead whales on which they depend. Their leaders and environmental groups sued American regulators for not following a 1970 law on environmental impacts. This allowed them to wrest a number of concessions from Shell, including a commitment to stop all offshore operations during the bowhead migration and hunt, should drilling ever proceed.
Canada should demand a moratorium on Arctic oil drilling until we're certain it will be done safely
Michael Byers, Ottawa Citizen, May 6, 2010
Concerns about offshore oil spills have prompted Stephen Harper to assure Canadians that our current safety standards will remain in place. But domestic rules won't protect Canada's coasts from spills next door, in Greenland and Alaska, where drilling is about to begin.
Companies such Imperial Oil, which had hoped to drill on the Canadian side of the Beaufort Sea this summer, were lobbying for a relaxation of the requirement for "relief wells." These parallel wells can be used to reduce the pressure -- and therefore the amount of oil escaping -- if and when a blowout occurs.
In the aftermath of the recent blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the companies themselves are calling for a pause. Which is a good thing, since any decision to relax -- or strengthen -- Canada's regulatory requirements should be fully informed and carefully considered.
But a de facto moratorium on drilling in the Canadian Arctic isn't enough, since oil spills do not respect international borders.
Unique sovereignty exercise aims to showcase co-operation, practise rescue and advance science
Patrick White, Globe and Mail, March 4, 2010 (with a report from The Canadian Press)
Two teams of Danish army pooches will mush alongside a large Canadian military operation in the Arctic next month, marking a thaw in relations between two countries often seen as rivals in the rush for Arctic spoils.
About 180 Canadian Forces members will participate in Operation Nunalivut, the latest exercise in a continuing campaign to assert the country's political and military presence in the High Arctic - an effort that falls short of what's needed to ward off territorial claims from other countries, some Arctic experts say.
A Canadian-Danish resolution on Hans Island could be 'a way of getting the ball rolling' on other northern ownership disputes
Globe and Mail, September 8, 2009
The first and only time George Hobson set foot on Hans Island was 36 years ago.
Mr. Hobson, then head of the Polar Continental Shelf Project, a federal Arctic research program, flew more than two hours by Twin Otter to the rocky outcrop from Resolute Bay after receiving an urgent phone call from Ottawa.
The caller was former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was then federal minister of Indian and northern affairs.