By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 13 October – 19 October 2012
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Thanks for joining us this week! The author is on travel, so this week’s edition is somewhat abbreviated, and there will be no edition next week. All editorial choices and any mistakes are, as always, the author's own. To comment or to request a back issue, feel free to contact the author directly. If you like what you read, please share it with others.
READS OF THE WEEK
Exemplary writing was a little bit thinner on the ground this week than one might hope, but for those short on time the following articles are the best place to start.
An article from the Hartford Courant looks at the insurance and legal costs that could come with increased climate-change-based lawsuits. Even if awards themselves are nonexistent, the legal expenses for corporations to fight such lawsuits could be massive. The piece uses the recent Kivalina case as an example. Follow that with an equally brainy article from Up Here Business which covers the Nunavut law that’s intended to drive dollars to Inuit-owned businesses. Loopholes in the law may mean that it’s not nearly as effective as it was intended to be.
Craig Medred garners two more Reads of the Week this week – his plain-speaking style is apparently to my taste. The first article, here in Eye on the Arctic, asks how best to discourage hikers, hunters, etc. in the Alaskan Bush from calling for emergency rescue when they don’t really need it. Deploying rescue services is enormously expensive, and overuse might – might – result in a little bit of boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome among emergency services themselves. The second article I am very ambivalent about, considering that a meaningful percentage of it comes across to me as a personal and slightly childish attack on Frances Beinecke, who I’m pretty sure Mr Medred does not personally know. It may not have been so intended, but that is how it came across to me. At any rate, Mr Medred uses the remainder of the article – the majority of it – to highlight in a frank and heartfelt way the messy conflict between the desire to provide communities with the jobs that come with industry, and the desire to protect the surroundings of those communities (Alaska Dispatch).
Finish up with a good, brief summation from the Atlantic of the interplay (or lack thereof) between the Arctic and Antarctic ice trends; the former melts while the latter grows, but this doesn’t imply balance.
BLOOD & TREASURE
After the slow, awkward Vikramaditya debacle, a good debrief (Strategy Page) is probably in order. Look at the issues there, and then consider whether Russia’s own highly ambitious Shipbuilding Development Program, which – if I understand correctly – is planned to deliver more than 100 ships of various kinds in the next 18 years at a cost of ca. RUR 1.3 trillion (Naval Today), is overly optimistic or not. The building of more than 30 icebreakers as part of that plan was mentioned at the keel-laying ceremony for one of the largest such vessels at the JSC Vyborg Shipyard near St Petersburg (Naval Today). Further toys are in the works not just for Russia’s waters but for her airspace as well with the development of a new anti-sub helicopter currently undergoing sea trials near the Kola Peninsula (RIAN). In a sad development, it looks as though Russia may also bow out of the nuclear Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which has provided a framework for the decommissioning of numerous nuclear subs and weapons since its institution in the early ‘90s (BO). Next door in Scandinavia, radar radiation from the USS Farragut appears to have made several crew members aboard the Norwegian KV Nordkapp ill, sending one to hospital, during the earlier Northern Eagle joint exercises (BO). I’m at a loss as to whether this kind of radiation is, in terms of its effects, different from or equivalent to that that we all fear from nuclear meltdowns and weaponry.
There is further nuclear news from the US as well, as Eye on the Arctic looks briefly at “Project Chariot,” a 1950s-era plan (never realized) to create a deep-water port near Point Hope, Alaska by detonating a nuclear weapon. The residents of Point Hope are concerned that the truth about what went on, and what was left behind, hasn’t been fully disclosed. Elsewhere, one US Coast Guard official is himself concerned that the (relatively) rapid growth in Arctic maritime traffic is reaching a level which is beyond the USCG’s powers to monitor and manage (nice article from Kim Murphy in the LA Times).
Looking northward, we see that – surprise! – the costs for Canada’s planned fleet of Arctic-worthy ships might turn out to be somewhat higher than originally planned, depending on the option chosen to secure maintenance contracts for the boats (a less than beautifully-written article from the Leader-Post).
Finally, delays in approval of Canada’s Radarsat Constellation Mission may mean that Canada is left without its own territorial satellite-observation capabilities as early as 2015 (OC).
THE POLITICAL SCENE
On the international front, the (unbridgeable?) gulf between the EU, Norway and Russia on the pursuit of Arctic hydrocarbons is distilled and captured in an intelligent and well-written article from Andreas Østhagen (The Arctic Institute), while the development and implications of the Arctic Council’s planned agreement on marine oil pollution preparedness and response are also covered intelligently by Mia Bennett (AD). In other trans-border news, the Jamestown Foundation re-posts a good précis of the ongoing Russia/Japan dispute and efforts at reaching a rapprochement while, at the other end of Russia, the Finns are beginning to prepare for an apparently-expected visa-free regime between Russia and the EU (EOTA). The Finnish government also discussed its Arctic policy last week; an English-language debrief of the four future guiding principles it has chosen can be had from the government’s own website.
Iceland’s famed potential Chinese Investor, Huang Nubo, has reportedly offered $3mn less than the originally-anticipated $8mn for a 60-year lease on a piece of land in northern Iceland (Iceland Review). Another article from Mia Bennett in Alaska Dispatch explores the country’s identity-semi-crisis (is it European? North American? Arctic?) and its potential future as a major player in the Arctic sphere.
Moving over to Canada, a whole slew of local elections took place this past week, and I’ve chosen not to run through the results here. A simple Google search will tell you who won elections in any municipality that you’re interested in. One theme of note that emerged was the absence of aboriginal candidates on the ballot in Yellowknife, where some aboriginal people chose to stay home from the polls in response (CBC). A bill before the Canadian House Aboriginal Affairs Committee, intended nominally to encourage greater financial transparency and accountability from First Nations, has perhaps unsurprisingly drawn some strongly-worded criticism from First Nations representatives. The bill appears to have been inspired, in whole or in part, by the difficulty of gaining access to audited financial statements from First Nations (Hill Times). Elsewhere, and importantly, the Gwich’in Tribal Council signed back on to the Northwest Territories’ devolution Agreement-in-Principal, which is a critical political step for both halves of the discussion (CBC).
SCIENCE, CLIMATE & WILDLIFE
Never would I have thought to choose an article on insurance from the Hartford (CT) Courant as a Read of the Week, but here we are. The piece looks at the failed lawsuit against several petro-giants by the Alaskan town of Kivalina as a case study of what the future might hold for climate-change lawsuits. Fascinating and important.
Now to climate news, where a short but clearly-written and information-rich article from the Atlantic makes a competent effort to explain the balance between the dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice this year and, on the other hand, growth in Antarctic sea ice. Also worth your time is the continued series of interesting short pieces from Julia Whitty in Mother Jones (Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, with more to come next week), each of which is a miniature portrait of some aspect of Arctic research. I was surprised to read that the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation had taken it upon itself to scatter 200,000 pounds of iron sulphate into the northern Pacific Ocean in an effort to do some guerrilla carbon sequestration (National Geographic – though no kudos for using a photo of an unrelated coccolithophore bloom in the Barents to illustrate the article). And recent research from Harvard also appears to demonstrate that the source of increased mercury in Arctic waters is “old” mercury from river discharge, as opposed to “new” mercury from current coal combustion and precipitation.
In a little bit more science news, you MUST watch the video of the launch of the Sikuliaq. Even though I knew it would not capsize, I was sure it was going to capsize when it went in. The $200mn, 261-foot ship’s unique capabilities are detailed in an enthusiastic and fun-to-read press release re-posted via MarineLink.
On to wildlife, where an article from Nunatsiaq News covers in the best possible way changes being observed in wildlife populations in Western Nunavut, and hunters’ view of the slowness of imposed quotas to adapt to new conditions. One component of that is an increase in observed predators, including polar bears, which have been almost a nuisance recently in Igloolik (CBC). Efforts to improve techniques used to count and assess the health of the bears are ongoing, and the CBC looks at a new initiative to explore biopsy-darting as a technique. The bears’ designation as a threatened species is the subject of an ongoing legal challenge to the Department of the Interior; the suit seeks to have the designation lifted (HuffPost).
Arctic marine life is also the subject of scientists’ tender attentions as illustrated by an engaging article on catching and tagging of Greenland sharks (CBC) and another looking at observed reductions in the genetic diversity of bowhead whales worldwide over the past 500 years (ADN).
In Norway, this week saw authorities give the final go-ahead to Eni to drill at the Goliat field in the Barents (NASDAQ). Progress was made as well towards the opening of hydrocarbon fields off of Jan Mayen (AB). It looks like Talisman Energy’s Yme field is both scandal-plagued and probably unprofitable, though nobody has delivered final word on that (AB), but Norway’s oil industry as a whole is quite profitable, delivering €53bn of cash flow this year, which is more than expected (BO). In other European news, UK firm Tullow Oil is partnering with Danish Maersk Oil to explore the Tooq license of the northwest coast of Greenland (Reuters), and the UK’s suggestion that a downsized, merged British Antarctic Survey + National Oceanographic Centre would help to “de-risk” major investments for UK corporations in “hostile, unfamiliar environments” has been, shall we say, less than universally welcomed (Guardian).
Commentators seem undecided as to whether Russia is becoming much more open or much less open to international investment in Arctic oil. The Financial Times ($) suggests that the Powers That Be in Russia understand the necessity of attracting outside money and knowledge to Arctic projects, while Barents Nova points out that Rosneft and Gazprom are aligned in disapproving of any government move towards allowing private and/or foreign firms to own more significant stakes in Arctic licenses. Alexander Gusev of the German Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik meanwhile suggests that the creation of a new Energy Commission is a sign of President Putin’s increased commitment to controlling Russia’s energy sector (European Energy Review – registration required), an idea supported in an article in Forbes about changes to TNK-BP’s ownership.
Russia might be looking for ways to bring more construction of Arctic-ready offshore platforms in-house (Pravda), and some sound and fury is being devoted to the development of floating nuclear power plants to supply settlements and industry in Russia’s Arctic (BO).
There was good cheer to be had in Alaska last week; the federal government announced it would put 400 tracts in the NPR-A up for sale on 7 November (Reuters), and US Senator Begich’s hearings seem to have produced largely optimistic news from the industry and government representatives who were present (ANN). But privately-acquired photos of Shell’s rig offshore of Alaska make it look much too close to shore for the comfort of many (dailyclimate.org), and ConocoPhillips can probably expect pushback on its own efforts to follow in Shell’s footsteps in Alaska (AD – a little outdated, sorry). Meanwhile a reaction in Alaska Dispatch to Senator Lisa Murkowski’s strongly pro-industry opinion piece in last week’s AD takes a much more wonky approach, and thus will probably get less pickup regardless of whether it’s accurate or not.
Entitled to its own paragraph is a lengthy screed from Craig Medred in Alaska Dispatch, which I am picking as a Read of the Week, but with several important caveats that I spent an hour writing but then simply deleted. Focus on the middle 75% of the article, which is excellent.
Finally to Canada, where oil is apparently yielding itself up to the ocean straight from fissures on the sea floor, perhaps offering a surprising opportunity to research the behavior of oil slicks in Arctic waters (NN). Relatedly, a trio of authors from the Canadian Institute of Resources Law writes on the wisdom of using Strategic Environmental Assessments to guide the development of hydrocarbon resources in the Beaufort Sea. Until oil/gas resources are developed in Nunavut, though, recently-described extensive deposits of thermal coal on Ellesmere Island might serve as a component of a quicker solution to Nunavut’s energy insecurities (NN).
First, news on particular mines around the circle. The federal environmental assessment process for the proposed Hopes Advance iron mine in Nunavik has been opened (NN). The Meadowbank gold mine in Nunavut has warned its workers that asbestos is present in the ore that’s being mined there (EOTA). The Nunavut Impact Review Board has given Areva more time than initially allotted to respond to comments and questions on its proposed Kiggavik uranium mine (NN). A proposed tungsten mine in Yukon has been approved by the territorial environmental agency, but there are several caveats and further steps to the process (CBC). Hearings on a cobalt/gold/bismuth mine 160km away from Yellowknife took place, with both opposition and support heard (CBC). A massive explosion kicked off production at an iron mine in far northern Sweden, near the Finnish border (BO).
In news unrelated to particular projects, the Swedish government is considering development of remote-controlled, robot-operated mines (EOTA), while future aluminum-mine workers from China, brought to Greenland by Alcoa, might be served by a brothel in the town of Maniitsoq (scandasia.com). The new provincial administration of Québec suggests that Plan Nord is still on the menu, though with some modifications (NN), and Up Here Business takes a look at a gradual shift in First Nations’ involvement in mining projects, as they move towards taking ownership stakes. Meanwhile, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association can’t seem to finally quell questions as to whether its ties with the mining industry are too cozy (APTN).
OTHER BUSINESS AND INDUSTRIAL NEWS
We’ll look first at shipping, where the previous record for cargo volume through the Northern Sea Route has already been broken handily this year (BO). Some believe that the trade route will be open year-round starting in 2013 (RIAN), and the work of the Franklin Expedition made some excellent strides towards making the Northwest Passage more navigable as well (AD). The icebreaker Rossiya has left port to begin helping out along the Northern Sea Route during the autumn season (BN), but the port facilities along Russia’s northern coast may leave something yet to be desired. The deeply-indebted port at Naryan-Mar hasn’t drawn any attractive bids (BN), and the port economic zone in Murmansk is likely to be closed after having failed to generate even a modest fraction of the investment interest that was expected (BN). Also near Murmansk, however, a new port to manage 18mn tons of coal annually is expected to be completed by 2018 (RIAN).
In fishing, most vessels catching pollock in the Bering Sea have reached their quotas, with a total haul of nearly 700,000 metric tons (KUCB). Regulations have been adjusted to permit building of longer freezer longline vessels for the Pacific cod fishery (Cordova Times), and back-and-forth negotiations on observer regimens for North Pacific fisheries continue (Alaska Journal).
In other business news, a seminar on reindeer husbandry as a resource for society is set for Uppsala, Sweden on 3-4 December (U Arctic), while networking across the Sámi regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland might be a key to the development of entrepreneurship in those areas (BO). Nunavut is also working towards better support for entrepreneurs with the development of BizPal, which should help new businesspeople fight their way through the forest of paperwork that’s necessary to start an enterprise (NN), and a proposal from the Government of Nunavut to impose a resale royalty on works purchased from Inuit artisans and resold through auction houses might help bring more proceeds to northern communities, or it might not (NN).
Finally, a Read of the Week from Up Here Business covers Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti (NNI), the contracting policy in Nunavut that encourages business to go to Inuit-owned firms, and the perception that many loopholes in it are frustrating its intentions.
INFRASTRUCTURE, HEALTH, EDUCATION & ARTS
A decision by the Canadian government against Bell Canada Enterprises means, through a roundabout path, that telecom company Northwestel is walking back its plans for expanded service in the Canadian North (CBC). On US territory, St Paul in the Pribilof Islands garnered a $500,000+ grant from the Department of Agriculture to bring broadband to the community (ANN). The Tanadgusix Corporation is charged with the building of the network.
In physical connectivity, the cost-benefit analysis of a road connecting Nunavut and Manitoba, which would be Nunavut’s only land route connecting it to the rest of Canada, still doesn’t seem to work out (EOTA), but at least three new airport terminals have recently been opened in Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk, all in the Northwest Territories (Gov’t of Canada). A decent if not revolutionary piece from the Institute of the North looks at the engineering efforts being made in Alaska to cope with the state’s likely future climate, and Craig Medred garners another Read of the Week – this time with no reservations – with a look at the increasing ease with which people in the Alaskan wilderness can call for (expensive) emergency rescue (EOTA). Mr Medred makes some useful proposals as to how the risks of overuse and boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome might be mitigated.
On the health side of things, the new Nutrition North program must be just such a frustration for everyone who touches it (CBC). Based on what I’ve read, at least, it seems impossible to create a plan with which both Ottawa and northern communities would be happy. Serious social issues such as suicide prevention and the intergenerational divide were also on the agenda at the week’s Elders and Youth Conference in Alaska (AD)
I got more than one email last week expressing disappointment that I had left out the weekly collection of Arctic photos, so this week I’m including two photo-essays that really struck me. The first is a gallery from Aftenbladet looking at the animals that visit Norwegian oil rigs, and the second is a really excellent collection of photos from Dave Brosha of the abandoned Giant Mine site in the Northwest Territories. There’s nothing as heartwarming on a cold, wet winter day as a series of photos of abandoned, crumbling homes!
THE GRAB BAG & SPORTS
These sections are excluded this week.
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
Bristol Bay Times (BBT)
Canadian Mining Journal (CMJ)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks News Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Huffington Post (HP)
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)
Moscow Times (MT)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
New York Times (NYT)
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)
Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
Washington Post (WP)
Whitehorse Star (WS)
Winnipeg Free Press (WFP)