Thursday, October 20, 2011

What an ice free Arctic Ocean may mean: New access, more fossil fuels, Russian benefit.

We continue to believe that changes in the accessibility of places and people affect the course of events in a profound way.   This is the significance of Andrew Kramer’s recent article in the New York Times about the opening of the Arctic Ocean to traffic in summer.  As the earth warms the ice packs of the Arctic are giving way to melt and new sea lanes are opening up for what appears to be lengthening periods of the year, effectively drawing closer the largest markets of Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.  “The voyage from Rotterdam to Yokohama, Japan, via the Northeast Passage, for example, is about 4,450 miles shorter than the currently preferred route through the Suez …”  Costs of travel are declining; speed of access has heightened.  Already the Norwegians have found it profitable to resume mining iron ore.  They now ship ore to China in 21 days versus the 37 days that it used to take via Suez, reducing their costs by $300,000 per trip.  It will also enable the exploitation of gas and oil reserves believed to reside in the Arctic sectors of Russia.  [For a link to the New York Times article click here.]

The Ecologist has just published [Oct 19, 2011] a notice that “Putin’s Russia will lead a ‘new era of Arctic industrialization,’” in which Tom Levitt claims that “Russia is leading an urgent rush to exploit the Arctic’s oil and gas reserves.”  In a recent conference Vladmir Putin  indicated that Russia intends develop “offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling, new sea terminals, infrastructure and the promotion of a commercial shipping route through the increasingly ice-free Arctic Seas.”  Russia plans to industrialize the Arctic. Putin exposed a hope that the Arctic will supplant the Suez and Panama Canals as the main shipping lanes between Europe and Asia.  And of course Putin has designs on the oil and gas reserves believed to lie under the Arctic Sea.  These are believed to be huge, possibly as much a 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered fossil fuel reserves.  Already 240 billion barrels of oil and oil equivalents (mostly gas) have been found in the region, “a figure almost as much as the entire proven hydrocarbon reserves of Saudi Arabia.”
Within a few years the earth will be smaller, and incalculable amounts of hydrocarbons will be available for a world that seems unable to acquire enough of them – controlled in this case by Putin’s Russia.  Who says Russia’s importance is receeding?  For a link to the Ecologist article, click here.]

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