By Tom Fries Arctic News 5 May 2012 – 11 May 2012
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Thanks for joining us this week! We take the time to pick out the most interesting stories, the best writing and the developing patterns in Arctic issues. If you like what you read, please share it with others. Your feedback and comments are always welcome; feel free to contact the author directly. All opinions and any mistakes are the author’s own.
BEST READS OF THE WEEK
If you’ve only got a few minutes this week, spend your time on these particularly creative or well-written pieces.
Lucy Ash, via the BBC, provides an excellent feature-length article on the reindeer-herding Nenets people of the Yamal region and the increasing impact on their lives of hydrocarbon projects.
Learning new stuff is always enjoyable, and this in-depth article on seismic survey vessels – what they do, how they do it – was, for me, a treat. From Kathy Smith via Maritime Executive.
Mark Adomanis’s article in Forbes on Russia-Norway collaboration has great information, great analysis, and great style.
An excellent, brainy and readable article on the complexities of formulating policy to deal with Arctic fisheries comes from Ed Struzik via Yale’s environment360 program.
In a shameless plug to pitch a niche personal interest as something of value to all, I strongly encourage you to check out this brief, narrated photo-essay from Radio Free Europe on Russia’s disappearing wooden churches.
BLOOD AND TREASURE
The Russia-Norway naval drills Pomor-2012 were slated to begin on Friday (RIAN). Simultaneously, President Putin announced that Russia would support further development of its Arctic navy in the years ahead (BO, marinelink.com). There was also word that Russia’s new Borei-class nuclear sub would be test-launching one Bulava missile this year (VOR), and that a REALLY close brush between a Russian MiG-31 and a Norwegian Orion maritime surveillance plane (BO) took place this week. One cannot help but think of Top Gun. Meanwhile the Nordics seem close to an agreement to collectively monitor Iceland’s airspace (Helsingin Sanomat).
In Canada, Canadian planes themselves, rather than Russian Migs, are causing problems. The nasty back-and-forth over the F-35s continued with a 160-word statement from the government on its decision to move ahead (G&M) while, on a much more festive note, the RCAF Snowbirds aerobatic performance squadron announced it would be making stops north of 60 this summer (CBC). As to Canada’s naval capabilities, delivery of a set of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships has been delayed now by three years; first delivery date 2018 (Canada.com). And on land, critical equipment shortages made it tough even to find enough parkas for an exercise – the Land Forces Atlantic Region appear to have borrowed some, ultimately, from the Air Force (EOTA). That’s teamwork.
Next door in Alaska, pararescuemen (a new word to me) and paratroopers practiced search-and-rescue operations on a hypothetical major aircraft crash (Alaska Native News). The coastal town of Kotzebue announced that it’s considering the possibility of a Coast Guard auxiliary to help bolster the state’s search-and-rescue capabilities on sea, but to do so wouldn’t be such a simple matter (Arctic Sounder). Meanwhile, at Thule Air Base in Greenland, USAF personnel began working with a new, more flexible, more capable communications system (defpro.com).
THE POLITICAL SCENE
Various members of the Obama administration and the defense hierarchy came out this week strongly in support of the US joining the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (US State Dep’t), and Hillary Clinton is preparing for her first visit to Norway (BO), perhaps demonstrating increased interest in the high North. US News says, rightly or wrongly, that the US government sees ratification of UNCLOS as a tool in a battle against Iran, Russia and China, and the Wall Street Journal seems to see it primarily as a tool in US-Chinese diplomacy. Meanwhile the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute called China a “near-Arctic state” (swedishwire.com). That assessment may or may not have anything to do with the announcement late this week that wealthy Chinese developer Huang Nubo seems to have finally reached a deal with the Icelandic government to lease a large plot of land in Iceland (eastday.com).
While Iceland may be gradually seeing its way to increased partnership with China, more than half of Icelanders seem unwilling to join the EU (IceNews). In Norway, increased cooperation with Russia was the subject of a really nice article from Forbes, and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre faced some skeptical questioning when news broke that the recipient of a NOK6mn government grant in support of the Centre for High North Logistics is a longtime friend (newsinenglish.no). Speaking of government money, here’s a new-to-me but invaluable feature from Alaska Dispatch: Fat Friday, cataloguing how much federal money Alaska has brought in for the week, and to whom it’s going. Pull back the curtain and take a peek. Meanwhile, the drying-up of federal funds in Canada is hitting beyond the social level; the disappearance of high-tech federal contracts could mean flight of highly-trained workforce to other countries, argues MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, a satellite company that had banked on a large contract for Arctic observation satellites (G&M).
It’s been stunning to read of the UN’s involvement with Canadian matters, including discrimination against aboriginal women (EOTA) and food security. Indeed, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter is in the midst of an 11-day visit to Canada during which he will meet reps from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (EOTA). It’s the first such exploratory visit to a developed country, and all federal ministers have declined meetings with Mr de Schutter (Canada.com). Meanwhile, residents of Coral Harbour, Nunavut have taken to the streets to protest incredibly high food prices (EOTA). Next door in the US, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya issued strong commentary on the disadvantages faced by indigenous groups in Alaska and elsewhere, suggesting that return of sacred native lands is in order (Reuters, BBC). A piece from Whit Fraser in Above & Beyond suggests that Inuit in Canada’s North may feel like an afterthought in the federal government’s “use it or lose it” Northern strategy discussions.
This week, an excerpt (Fortune blog) of an upcoming book by Bob Reiss takes a delightful Frederick Forsyth-ish look at the potential of Russian submarine supertankers to circumvent the many practical surface-level issues of Arctic hydrocarbon projects, while Matthew Hulbert of Forbes gives us another highly readable overview of the flurry of deals developing to tackle prospects in the Russian Arctic and elsewhere. Regardless of what may come from Russia eventually, New Europe writes in a nicely done article that the EU continues to argue its way to “non-Russian sources” of gas and, in a second brief post, that new/old president Putin is unlikely to change his opposition to the EU’s Third Energy Package. Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre also announced that energy is one of the top three drivers of Norway’s foreign policy at the moment (BN),
Elsewhere in the Russian scene, the country’s plans to raise mineral extraction taxes on non-Gazprom gas producers fourfold (thus making them equal to Gazprom’s) doesn’t seem to have produced any especially strong reaction from Rosneft (Reuters). Plans to gradually up taxes for the whole industry after 2015 lead Gazprom, however, to say that the Yamal megaproject may become “completely unprofitable” (MT).
Last week it looked like Lukoil might be the only Russian company to take Rosneft up on its partnership offer (ITAR-TASS), but TNK-BP may also try to acquire some new opportunities by inking a cooperation agreement with Rosneft for Arctic properties this summer (Telegraph, Forbes). TNK-BP’s net profits are down substantially for Q1 2012 (MT). We also heard this week that OPEC has lowered its estimates for Russian gas production this year based on bad news from Prirazlomnoye, while still citing tax breaks for offshore development as a positive indicator for the future (Interfax), and word from Natural Gas E came that Gazprom might be considering construction of a pipeline to Japan.
The Rosneft-Statoil agreement got coverage almost everywhere this week. Estimated at $2.5bn, the agreement gives Statoil 1/3 ownership in the Perseyevsky field between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land (BO) and in other projects in the Sea of Okhotsk (BBC). Statoil foots the bill for initial exploration (Statoil.com), and Rosneft gets opportunities in the Norwegian Barents and in the North Sea, among other benefits, in exchange. Resource estimates of the properties concerned are 2bn tonnes oil and 1.8tcm of gas, and full exploration+development cost estimates run the gamut from $35bn to $60bn (BO, RT). There are of course large political and technological hurdles standing in the way of making this an unbridled success (newsinenglish.no 1, 2), and the FT and Forbes pointed out the mutual hostage-taking element of all Rosneft’s cooperation deals, but Statoil CEO Helge Lund remained confident about the deal’s prospects for the company (Reuters). Lund’s company announced year-over-year Q1 profit increase of 14% (MarketWatch); the complete earnings-call transcript is available should you wish to read it. Statoil also announced that it would begin aggressive exploration in late 2012 at the Skrugard and Havis fields along with partners Eni and Petoro (Reuters), the latter of which has also reported best-ever results of $7.4bn profit in Q1 2012 (AB). Danish company Dong Energy is also eyeing the Barents hungrily (AB).
It’s never a good week for oil spills. A spill of unknown magnitude was reported leaking from the Belomorsk oil platform into the White Sea nature preserve in Russia’s Northwest (marinelink.com) and Bashneft has stopped work at the Trebs field to investigate its own late-April spill (RIAN). But spills are good business for the companies that rent ships to deal with them; sudden demand increases = price hikes (AB). The Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency is responding to events like this with increased demands for preliminary research on ecosystems in areas under consideration for drilling and for infrastructure to deal with possible accidents (BO, Bloomberg).
Environmental groups are also doing their best to stand in the way of Arctic drilling. The boarding of Finnish icebreaker Nordica last week off of Sweden (AB) hasn’t stopped Swedish company Stena from renting its IceMAX to Shell to help with the same project (ekopolitan.com), but Greenpeace seems to be considering suing the Finnish government should any damages result from the projects it supports with its drillship contracts (EOTA).
Steve Coll, in an interview on his new book about Exxon Mobil, points out that Alaska is, politically speaking, a tough nut to crack for oil companies (alaskapublic.org). Canada’s North is no piece of cake either, and Dene leaders in the NWT are asking that hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline be brought to the NWT for comment as well (CBC). One can see the reasons for many objections to extractive projects in Canada in a heartfelt opinion piece from the Edmonton Journal. Despite such concerns, Canada’s AANDC has opened six further parcels to exploration in the Mackenzie Delta, which some see as a really positive thing (CBC). Note the complicated relationship between the territory and the federal government, and how that impacts the process.
In an effort to offset some of the impact of our global dependence on hydrocarbons, Norway is opening a “moon landing” technology center to research CO2 storage technologies (AB). Statoil, however, is moving the director of its renewable energy portfolio to head up its Canadian oil sands projects (AB), which – environmentally speaking – is quite the shift.
In a last note, my thanks to Kathy Smith for taking the time and effort to write a really informative article (Maritime Executive) on seismic surveying, how it works, and how the industry is developing.
One of the most fascinating questions of the week: should Greenland mine its uranium, as well as other rare earth elements? The Greenlandic government apparently holds a 100% ban on uranium mining at this point (Danish Institute for International Studies), but a newly-released report from Greenland Minerals and Energy, Ltd. indicates that the Kvanefjeld site in Greenland could be a long-run and highly competitive supplier of uranium and REEs. The prospectus itself is actually fascinating reading and worth your time. Nunavut, too, is confronting these issues regarding Areva’s proposed Kiggavik mine (NN), though there is no policy challenge like a blanket ban on uranium mining. Check out the newly-launched website for Nunavut’s uranium-mining watchdog organization, Nunaviammut Makitagunarningit. In Finland, even accidental releases of trace uranium are raising eyebrows after the Finnish government agreed to permit a gold mine to discharge 600,000 cubic meters of waste water into a local waterway near Raahe (EOTA).
Even mining more quotidian materials is likely to become an increasingly lucrative business as living standards rise around the world; Mechel’s improvements to its Elga coking-coal mine in Yakutia helped bump the company’s 2011 net profits up 10.8% over 2010 (Reuters). But we often pay the price later; two of Canada’s four most expensive upcoming cleanups are the Faro Mine in Yukon and the Giant Mine near Yellowknife in the NWT (CBC).
Never mind the above issue with Yukon’s Faro Mine: this past week was Yukon Mining and Geology Week, and in Whitehorse it was a chance to laud the economic contributions that mining has made in the territory (Whitehorse Star). The delicate balance between Yukon’s wilderness and the importance of mining to the territory’s survival were in stark relief, and a similar debate around Québec’s Plan Nord is flaring, as tax rates and the extent of public assistance to mining projects is debated at length (NN). Nunavik in the North has responded with its own “Plan Nunavik,” which details the region’s requirements, as a response to Plan Nord (NN). Included are new roads and a link to Québec’s electrical grid.
In an effort to integrate local stakeholders into mining decisions, a new radio call-in show with a human rights lawyer asks for opinions and questions on the Mary River iron project in North Baffin (NN). Hard to judge whether this is a new/old idea that suits Nunavut, or whether it’s simply a gimmick, but it’ll be interesting to see what the outputs will be. Either way, the economies of Nunavut and Canada’s other Northern territories are deeply dependent on mining for their well-being; the sector is responsible for last year’s GDP growth in Nunavut and Yukon and simultaneous decline in the NWT, says the NPA blog.
BUSINESS and INDUSTRY
Business development isn’t always a bed of roses: the NWT government and a failed tourism business have settled a lawsuit that nicely illustrates the ways in which state support can be a double-edged sword (CBC). The government of Yakutia, meanwhile, is handing out a few awards to innovative small businesses in the engineering sector (Pravda – which, seriously, is always good for a chuckle – the headlines read as though they’ve come straight out of The Onion). Arctic Startup also published a rebuttal of sorts to an earlier, negative piece on TechCrunch about the Norwegian startup scene. A great window onto a world most of us don’t think about in connection with the North.
TAI’s own Kathrin Keil offered an excellent piece last week on the politics of shipping via Canadian Arctic waters. Among the many challenges any such efforts would face is the limited nature of hydrographic data; NNSO reports that “the Canadian Hydrographic Service, a branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will start marking navigation charts for the Arctic with reported hazards to navigation in 2013.”
An excellent piece from Ed Struzik on the future of fisheries in the Arctic definitely merits a read. It’s an enormously important industry; Alaska’s seafood exports last year made up just under half of the state’s total export revenues for the year (Dutch Harbor Fisherman). The nature of jurisdiction over these fisheries was also explored at some length on csrwire.com.
Development in Iqaluit proceeds quickly, and the city’s population is expected to approximately double to 13,000 by 2030 (NN). Meanwhile private-sector interest in development projects in Whitehorse appears to be flagging quickly (Whitehorse Star).
The physical health of Arctic residents is a persistent issue. The Yukon’s government was grilled about its plans to ameliorate the impacts of poverty in the territory (Whitehorse Star), and the ambitious $10.6mn Qanuippitali Inuit health survey appears to have wrapped up and slipped quietly out the side door without ever reporting comprehensive results to the public (NN). In Nunavut, anecdotal reports suggest Kugaaruk’s drinking water may be unsafe (NN), and a TB outbreak in Nunavik, QUE has health officials scrambling (CBC). Next door in Alaska, an unprecedented agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service will allow Alaska’s veterans in remote communities to get their health care from the latter, rather than traveling great distance to reach established VA facilities (EOTA). Across the pond in Sweden, quite a few Northern pharmacies may be closing next year, limiting Swedes’ options (EOTA). Mental health is also a growing problem in Canada’s North (EOTA), while a rash of suicides is buffeting Alaska’s remote communities (EOTA).
Nunavut has signed on to the nation’s emergency alert system, which broadcasts via TV and radio as well as mobile device (CBC). It’s an improvement; the territory’s communications systems, which are satellite-based, have gone entirely out of commission before and are overtaxed (NN). The NWT opted out of the same system, citing the higher priority of improving existing territorial communication infrastructure (EOTA). Solving Nunavut’s longstanding communications issues with fiber optic infrastructure is technically possible, says the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation, but to do so would be phenomenally expensive (NN). Communications across the sea in Russia and Norway are also a problem; the grievance of exorbitant roaming charges isn’t just an issue in better-developed parts of the world, it turns out (BO).
Grumbling about the choice not to put a major highway contract in Yellowknife out for public bid highlights the tough choice between developing aboriginal-owned businesses in Canada’s North and going with what’s least expensive for taxpayers (CBC). In Yukon, too, there’s been unhappiness expressed at the government’s opaque contracting processes related to a heating system in Dawson City (CBC).
A new program has come online to help residents of Nunavut understand how they and the government relate when it comes to personal information (NN), and Canada announced it would fund community justice programs to the tune of $12.5mn this year (CBC). In Russia however, indigenous reindeer herders in the Yamal region are “feeling cramped” by growing oil and gas activity (BBC).
Finland may be leaving millions of Euros in available EU development funds on the table by, as far as I can tell, not needing development help (YLE). I guess it’s a good problem to have. Finns also appear to have a continued suspicion of immigrants (YLE), though attitudes are shifting gradually.
SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENT and WILDLIFE
James Goddard’s op-ed in the NYT is a truly compelling and distressing read, and a study covered by Voice of America suggests that polar ice is melting much faster than previously thought. A blog on rabble.ca also offers a semi-apocalyptic picture, and the Montreal Gazette offered a fairly broad piece with the message that the Arctic is changing in ways that will impact all of us. A good contribution in this same vein comes from the journal Science, reported via AD and EOTA, on the relationship between warming in the Arctic and storms.
The NSIDC turned in numbers for April showing that ice extent – that is, surface area covered, not total volume – was higher than it has been since 2001 (NN), and the Pribilof Islands were looking at record ice cover this year (ADN). Good news also comes from Norway, whose emissions declined by 2.3% last year (AB). And, while Alaska’s remote communities seem to have made it out of the winter without major floods (AD), Northern Finland has been less fortunate (YLE).
The European Environmental Agency released its dismaying predictions of future warming over Europe (arcticportal.org), and Environment Canada showed that 2011-12 has been a really warm winter for all of Canada (NN). There was also word that Parks Canada would be cutting staff (NNSO) – though I’m not sure how that jibes with this video ad for precisely such positions - and a collaborative scenario-planning project released models that show significant changes in what they call “cliomes” for the Arctic in the decades ahead.
The Canadian government is investing $14.7mn in the DEW line cleanup over the next year (EOTA), but the identification of more than 140 contaminated sites across Canada, including in the Arctic, makes it look like clean-up in general will be a decades-long process (EOTA).
Cordova in Alaska plays host to awesome hordes of shorebirds returning North from their Southward winter migrations at this time of year (Cordova Times), but if you prefer a one-on-one relationship with your wildlife you can follow Alaska’s reality-TV LoonCam, starting soon (AD), or the story of a lone bald eagle who has found his way to Whale Cove, Nunavut (CBC). If you’re that sort of person, you might also find sightings of “Tripawed,” a three-legged grizzly in Alaska’s Denali National Park, something worth tracking (ADN). If you prefer grisly to grizzly (ha!), see this article on a wolf attack in Sweden, or this sad story of a herd of pregnant reindeer who plunged 800m over a cliff to their deaths (both via thelocal.se).
Finally, John R. Platt offers an articulate critique this week of the recent kerfuffle over polar bear surveys in Hudson Bay. It gives a good, clear picture of the challenge of protecting science from cooption and politicization (Scientific American).
THE SPORTING LIFE
The Ice Hockey World Championships were all the rage this week, and YLE provided tons of coverage (Helsinki is hosting the final). Low attendance at some preliminary games was offset by a sold-out crowd for Finland vs. Canada (YLE) (Finland lost out to Canada 5-3). High ticket prices for less-popular games angered many Finns, whose protests at the France-Kazakhstan game (Side note: There is a France-Kazakhstan game at the world hockey championships?) were shut down by security personnel (YLE). The Finnish Ice Hockey Association responded by lowering prices for undersold games drastically, offering 4-for-1 tickets for the Finland-France and Finland-Kazakhstan games (YLE).Next door in Sweden, the Malmö Redhawks are adding ballet training to their regimen (IceNews).
There are some fantastic photos on Flickr from the Nunavut Quest dogsled race, which ran from Igloolik to Arctic Bay. In the quick debrief of the race from NN, see the matching sunburn running all across the contestants’ faces. Humans meanwhile raced on foot and on bicycles in Whitehorse, where an athletics expo was also held. Next door in the NWT, Denis Légère’s kiting trip across the Great Slave Lake was covered by NNSO.
A young filmmaker from Yellowknife has been plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight of Cannes, where his short film will be screened (CBC). The film sounds really depressing, but I congratulate Mr Silke nevertheless.
Greenland’s official tourism website has won a Webby Award, and more power to them for it (NN)!
Heartfelt congratulations go to the newly-launched magazine Northern Public Affairs – I’m looking forward to the first issue!
The Tim Burton-looking, 13-storey Sutyagin House in Arkhangelsk was the world’s tallest wooden house until it burned to the ground last week (RIAN).
The best fishing for Atlantic salmon in the world is, at least by one account, found in the Varzuga river on the Kola peninsula (fishandfly.com).
I cannot imagine anyone would survive a solo, unsupplied trans-polar trek mid-winter from Russia to Canada (Scotsman.com), but what do I know? And I guess if anyone would, it would be a doughty Scot.
There are things that people in large cities simply would not think to do with a group of schoolchildren, and a 500-mile snowmobile trip is one of those things (AD).
Direct flights from Moscow to Tromsø will soon be available every Friday from a Russian tour operator (BO). Fun for all!
Finland and Sweden tussle over sex-education videos (IceNews). Of course.
Salmonstock looks like a hoot – mark your calendars!
One municipality in Sweden is tired of people abusing handicapped parking spots, and is lobbying to get “Laziness is not a disability” signs appended to existing handicapped-parking spots (IceNews).
Norway’s national day is not just celebrated in Norway but also, by a dedicated group of fans, in Murmansk (BN).
Interested in which Greenlandic singers have made a name for themselves away from home? See greenlandtoday.com.
Great half-hour documentary on the town of Shoina on Russia’s White Sea coast, which moving sand dunes are blanketing out of existence.
Missing Stavanger? Now you can really wallow in your hjemve by watching one of the webcams now available (AB).
Fantastic photos of Alaska from, of course, National Geographic.
A photo essay on Russia’s wooden churches that makes my heart ache (Radio Free Europe).
Would you take your child to drive the Road of Bones in Siberia with you? I mean, I wouldn’t, but I kind of wish my parents had.
Here’s a nice video interview from the ACCESS program and the Norwegian Polar Institute on sea ice and melt ponds.
Enjoy any of these three “Frostbytes” –video interviews on Arctic science provided by APECS and IPY2012.
Here’s a video from TV21.ru of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear sub, a technological marvel at the time it was released, rusting in a northern Russian shipyard (in Russian).
These time-lapse videos of Arctic scenery never get old to me. I must have some kind of psychological issue.
Here is a photograph of the world’s largest cube. Of milk.
For those of you who can’t get enough of policy wonking, here’s video of a one-hour speech from Finland’s Minister of Defense, Stefan Wallin, at CSIS in Washington.
Video of Denali’s rainbows from Frontier Scientists.
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks News Miner (FNM)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Moscow Times (MT)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
Northern News Service Online (NNSO)
Northern Public Affairs (NPA)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Ottawa Citizen (OC)
RIA Novosti (RIAN)
Russia Today (RT)
Voice of Russia (VOR)