Value of Arctic is More Than Just Oil

Value of Arctic is More Than Just Oil

Nicole Halseth, News

 

In recent years, the Arctic has become a hot commodity, and Arctic issues are increasingly making their way into international headlines. Russia is only the latest Arctic nation to follow this trend.

According to Daniel Sandford of BBC News, in his article Russia’s Arctic: Mission to Protect Wildlife, “Russia is planning huge oil and gas developments in the Arctic Ocean off its northern coast–drilling that could threaten pristine wildlife habitats.” Despite warnings from Russian scientists that large populations of walruses and polar bears could be put at risk, the Russian government is continuing early exploration of potential production areas and may begin activity within the next two decades. This future activity will depend on fluctuations in international oil and gas prices.

Polar bears and walruses in Russia (and around the world) are already facing hardships resulting from climate change and environmental degradation; the most significant of which is retreating ice due to melting, which has forced numerous Arctic animals away from traditional feeding grounds to further inland where food is more dangerous and more difficult to procure. Instituting large-scale oil and gas production would likely further disrupt their lifestyles due to noise and pollution, chasing away food which is already growing scarce. These activities would also risk potential oil spills that are devastating on the surrounding environment, and can be dangerous, costly, and time consuming to clean up.

Like Russia, Canada is now facing a similar dilemma where it comes to dealing with our own Arctic interests. Arctic Canada is rich in culture, biodiversity, and natural resources. It has a longstanding history of being a place of intercultural exchange through interactions between Arctic explorers and vibrant Inuit communities. Arctic Canada is interspersed with unique ecosystems and life that exist nowhere else on the planet, though both the Inuit and these unique ecosystems have recently been facing the challenges of climate change and continued environmental degradation.

Canada’s Arctic also holds great political and economic potential. First, it has gained increased attention recently in regards to the Northwest Passage, which after further glacial melting may serve as an efficient and viable international trading route. Second, our Arctic holds enormous potential for large oil and gas reserves, which makes it extremely valuable to the international community. However, this current and future oil and gas mining threatens the environment in which it is housed.

Arctic nations around the world are gradually realizing this fact, and placing more focus on protecting their habitats because of it. This gradually increasing awareness remains, even if some do not appear to be on the same page.

Given the challenges Canada’s Arctic is already facing, we must be cautious not to follow such an environmentally damaging route if we wish to continue enjoying a vibrant, sustainable Arctic in the future. Should we fail in this respect, we may not be the ‘true north’ for much longer.