I once met a bear while hiking in the Rocky Mountains. A big bear, who squinted at me and sniffed the air. When I backed away, he followed me, muscles rippling beneath a grizzled hump.
With no trees to climb, I began to talk. “Good morning, Mr. Bear,” I said, and asked about his health. I commented on the weather, told him of my plans and, after a minute of idle chatter, he shrugged and wandered off the path.
I was reminded of this encounter when, last month, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion announced a shift in foreign policy. From now on, Canada will seek to actively co-operate with Russia in the Arctic.
After a week of meetings in Portland, Arctic officials have put the final touches on an agreement to collaborate on research.
Penelope Overton, Portland Press Herald, 8 October 2016
The Arctic Council is preparing a treaty to be signed in the spring to promote scientific cooperation among the eight Arctic nations, a move that would benefit Maine scientists who need access to Russian territory and research for their work on topics ranging from climate change to how oil changes when it’s exposed to severe cold.
David Balton, the United States’ ambassador to the council and the chairman of the council’s senior Arctic officials, hailed it as a groundbreaking agreement. The officials have been meeting all week in Portland to discuss policy issues that affect Arctic nations.
“We are trying to allow Arctic science to be science without borders,” Balton said Friday, the final day of the conference. “Not all science proceeds as smoothly in the Arctic as we might like yet. There are restrictions, particularly in Russia, about entry and exit of scientists from other nations, and their material and data. With this, all the nations in the Arctic will allow much more freedom to conduct science.”
In 1969, the SS Manhattan sailed through the Northwest Passage to test whether oil could be shipped from the north coast of Alaska to Texas. The voyage of the U.S.-owned supertanker tested then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau because it raised the spectre of many more such voyages and, at some point, a major oil spill.
On Aug. 16, the Crystal Serenity begins a month-long voyage through the passage. The Chinese-owned cruise ship is the first large passenger vessel to take advantage of melting sea ice in Canada’s Arctic. Its voyage will test Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, because it raises the spectre of many more such voyages and, with them, serious safety, environmental and security concerns.
Given Putin’s threat, the Obama-Trudeau talks need to address the U.S.-Canada Northwest Passage dispute.
By Scott Borgerson & Michael Byers
Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2016
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in Washington Wednesday for a state visit with President Obama. Much has been made of Mr. Trudeau’s “movie star” good looks and liberal credentials. But top on the two men’s list of priorities should be a far less attractive subject: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his pivot toward the Arctic.
In addition to Mr. Putin’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war and his 2014 “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea region, he sees global warming as a benefit along Russia’s northern frontier and is realigning his country’s strategic priorities toward the Arctic.
Tensions with Russia provide a new reason for the U.S. to resolve the Northwest Passage dispute with Canada. Canada claims the channels between its Arctic islands that connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska are the country’s “internal waters.” The U.S. maintains that the waterway is an “international strait” through which ships and aircraft from all countries have a right of uninterrupted “transit passage.”
With the U.S. becoming more engaged on Arctic issues as a result of its chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council, and the Obama administration’s focus on climate change, this is an opportune time to address what has become a shared vulnerability to naval vessels from Russia and other unfriendly nations passing through the Northwest Passage, or terrorists and smugglers seeking to enter North America from there.
Jeannette Lee Falsey, Alaska Dispatch News, October 23, 2015
The only international forum devoted exclusively to the Arctic met in Anchorage this week to discuss everything from research drones to ocean acidification.
The meeting was the council's first under the current U.S. chairmanship and brought together representatives from eight Arctic nations as well as indigenous communities and observers with interests in the region.
Interior Department cancels two future offshore leases in Chukchi and Beaufort seas and will refuse requests from oil companies to renew existing leases
Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 16 October 2015
Barack Obama blocked off the prospects for future oil drilling in the Arctic on Friday, imposing new lease conditions that make it practically impossible for companies to hunt for oil in the world’s last great wilderness.
The Department of Interior said it was canceling two future auctions of Arctic offshore oil leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and turned down requests from Shell and other oil companies for more time on their existing leases.
By Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, 9 October 2015
Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.
The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”
Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.
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.