Russia Plays Game of Arctic Roulette in Oil Exploration

Oil production in the Komi Republic: Russian exploration programs are harming the Arctic.

Thawing sea ice and improved technology is opening up the race for natural resource exploration in the Arctic Circle, home to nearly a quarter of the world’s untapped oil reserves. Russia leads the race and has promised to adhere to environmental guidelines. But accidents and other damage resulting from the country’s oil exploration tell a different story.

The shipyards in Severodvinsk, on the White Sea, where nuclear submarines were once built, have turned their attention to assembling drilling platforms. One was just recently assembled for use at the Prirazlomnoye oilfield in the Pechora Sea, also along Russia’s northwestern coast. The enormous metal construction, operated by a subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom, is expected to start drilling sometime in the coming months.

The Last Frontier

According to a United States Geological Survey estimate, around 22 percent of the world’s as yet undiscovered, exploitable oil reserves will be found in the Arctic. This is the last frontier for multinational oil corporations — and even that border is crumbling, as sea ice melts and energy prices rise:

  • Corporations Statoil and Cairn are exploring for oil in Baffin Bay, west of Greenland, with the help of a fleet of icebreaker ships capable of dragging icebergs out of the way.
  • The Dutch-British corporation Shell plans to start test drilling north of Alaska. The oilfield there was discovered in the 1980s, and its exploitation has American President Barack Obama’s support.
  • This spring, American energy corporation ConocoPhilips, in test drilling performed together with a Japanese oil company, managed for the first time to extract methane hydrate from natural gas trapped inside ice crystals deep under the earth.

Traditionally, though, it is Russia, with its massive reserves of oil, gas and ore in northern Siberia that has been the pioneer in tapping the Arctic’s resources. Barely noticed by the rest of the world, Russia’s explorations here have frequently shown that a great deal can go wrong when machinery and brute force are used to extract natural resources from such a sensitive region, in what amounts to a game of Arctic roulette.


Spiegel has the full article

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