News / Europe

Greens Oppose Russia's Arctic Energy Plans

A drilling rig at the Val Gamburtseva oil fields in Russia's Arctic Far North (File)
A drilling rig at the Val Gamburtseva oil fields in Russia's Arctic Far North (File)
James Brooke

After last summer's oil spill in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, environmentalists are increasingly alarmed by Russia's massive oil and gas drilling plans for the Arctic.

While the Antarctic increasingly looks like a science and tourism park, the Arctic may increasingly look like an industrial park.

Russia already draws almost one quarter of its exports from the Arctic.  Now, President Dmitry Medvedev has set a goal of making the Arctic Russia's 'top strategic resource base" by 2020.

To get there, Russia is embarking on $50 billion worth of Arctic energy projects - oil and gas drilling platforms, oil shipping terminals and liquefied natural gas plants.  But after last summer's massive offshore oil spill in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, environmentalists are asking Russia to take time to improve safety and pollution controls in its far north.  

The executive director of the American environmental group Pacific Environment, David Gordon, talked at a recent Arctic conference in Moscow.

"We need to make sure we have the safety measures in place before we allow Arctic drilling to move forward," said Gordon.

In the event of an Arctic spill, he said, the dark winters, the extreme cold weather and the long distances from population centers would make cleanup operations much harder than the efforts last summer in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The numbers for the Gulf spill and the response to it are just staggering - 25,000 people responded to it, 3,800 vessels responded to it," Gordon said.  "They used 10 million feet of boom.  And none of that is available in the Arctic."

Russian PM Vladimir Putin at a Cabinet meeting in Moscow, 25 Oct 2010
Russian PM Vladimir Putin at a Cabinet meeting in Moscow, 25 Oct 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a frequent visitor to Russia's polar regions, promised at the Arctic conference that "not a single industrial project in the Russian Arctic will be implemented without due consideration for the most stringent environmental requirements."

Noting the Arctic will soon become a major energy source and  transportation corridor, he warned, "An irresponsible attitude towards the Arctic could spell global problems, rather than global advantages, in the near future."

A few days later, he signed five new Arctic oil and gas offshore drilling licenses.  

At the conference, Vladimir Mulyak, a vice president of Russia's privately owned Lukoil oil company, said the BP spill was a clear warning for energy companies working in the Arctic.

Arctic drillers, he said, would pay more attention to pollution controls and to duplicating safety systems.  This would make projects more expensive, but Mulyak predicted Lukoil's Arctic projects will remain profitable.

On December 2, Lukoil is expected to bid for rights to exploit two Russian Arctic fields that are believed to hold about two-billion barrels of oil.  Last year, Lukoil built an Arctic terminal capable of pumping half a million barrels a day into oil tankers built with especially thick, ice resistant hulls.

Twenty one years ago, the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska set an earlier generation of American environmentalists against energy production in the Arctic.  The WWF vice president for Marine and Arctic policy, Bill Eichbaum spoke at the conference in Moscow.

An April 1989 file photo of a bird being examined on an island in Prince William Sound, Alaska, after getting soaked in oil as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska
An April 1989 file photo of a bird being examined on an island in Prince William Sound, Alaska, after getting soaked in oil as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska

"The Arctic environment would be very severely impacted as compared with the Gulf," he said.  "A year and a half ago we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, and I had rocks on my desk that had been dug up near the anniversary of the spill that were still covered with oil."

Most of the Arctic oil and gas reserves are believed to be in the relatively shallow waters of the continental shelf.  But WWF's Eichbaum was not moved.

"Those conditions will be even more hazardous in the Arctic.  Even if it is not deep water, it is hazardous water," said Eichbaum.

But the United States Geological Survey estimates that one quarter of the planet's undiscovered oil and gas reserves are in the Arctic.  To many attendees at the conference, exploitation of these reserves was not a question of "if", but a question of "how" and of "when."

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs