Take Five is The Arctic Institute’s news roundup that gives you everything you need to know about what’s happened in the Arctic this week. Short in length but big on insight, from politics and culture to the environment and security, we look beneath the headlines to see what’s really going on. Published each Friday, our quick and fun redux breaks down the five biggest circumpolar stories with fresh editorial analysis so you can get caught up on the region in under five minutes. Take Five means you’ll never miss a beat on what matters most.
ANWR drilling? Yes, if Alaska legislators can help it
The saga continues. Last week, Alaska’s Senate joined its House of Representatives in supporting House Joint Resolution 5, a “stern letter” to the US Congress demanding that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) be opened to oil drilling (Juneau Empire). Ever since Obama put a hold on new oil and gas leases in the Arctic Ocean shortly before he left office, there have been many ruffled feathers in the state, which is very economically dependent on oil. However, there is a possible plan “B” coming down the pipeline in the form of a dispute over ANWR’s borders: earlier last month, an appeals board in Virginia said it would take procedural questions on the case (The Arctic Sounder).
TAKE 1: There’s more to this issue than money and boundaries: ANWR is the calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou, which care for neither. The animals roam across the US-Canada border each year, and because they are an important source of sustenance for mainly Indigenous people in both countries, what affects the herd in one place is, in fact, an issue of international relations. The land that the Refuge is on is sacred to the Gwich’in people of Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories (CKLB).
Promising deal for renewable energy in Canada’s Nunavik
Last week saw the promising creation of a new joint-venture firm for green energy in Nunavik, the northern third of Canada’s province of Québec which is majority Inuit. The new company, called PowerCo. for the time being (it’s to ultimately have a name in Inuktitut), will be 100% Inuit owned; it will also mean that jobs will be created in a region that needs them (NN, Makivik). While the fledgling company has a lot of work to do in determining which energy sources to work on, wind, tidal, and hydro are strong contenders (NN).
TAKE 2: Like most remote places in the Arctic, Nunavik’s communities are 100% diesel-powered, which is highly problematic for the sensitive Arctic environment. Renewable energy makes a lot of sense, but unfortunately, it’s really expensive; hopefully, a $50 million federal program announced earlier in February to help with just this will reduce some barriers (Reveal News).
Annual Canadian military exercise in Arctic kicks off for 10th year
Every year since 2007, the Canadian Armed Forces has sent a few hundred people to the Arctic in what’s known as Operation NUNALIVUT. Military personnel do various drills in the extreme environment, such as survival training, sovereignty patrols, and search and rescue training (Ottawa Citizen, Skies). This year, however, a search and rescue drill took a real-life turn when crew training in an aircraft found some stranded Nunavut hunters whose snowmobile had broken down three days prior. They said they feel like the “luckiest two guys in the Arctic” (CBC).
TAKE 3: They’re right: they were exceptionally lucky. The—happily successful—drill seriously underlines the importance of search and rescue in the Arctic. With Canada’s perennial obsession with maintaining sovereignty over the region and the projected increase in human activities in the region over the next while, this is a time for search and rescue to shine on a few fronts.
Dispute erupts again over Svalbard Treaty
The Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is in the news again with another dispute concerning the Svalbard Treaty. Back in October, French explorer couple Gilles and Alexia Elkam got nabbed by the Svalbard government for having their ship “Arktika-2” in a protected area without permission and were summarily towed to Longyearbyen (TBO). Trouble is, according to the Elkams, the 1920 Svalbard Treaty grants them free passage. Moreover, they say that the way the government handled the situation further violates the treaty (TBO). The explorers say that they refuse to pay the 25,000 kroner ($2,765) fine and are prepared to take the government to court (TBO).
TAKE 4: This isn’t the only way that Norway is butting heads with the EU over Svalbard: January saw a Latvian crab fishing vessel start a row with Norway over fishing rights, which is yet to be resolved (TBO). And Norway’s tough stance seems to extend onto land: last fall, the country spent 300 million kroner on a Svalbard property just to keep a Chinese businessman from buying it (TBO). With Russia’s steadily increasing presence in the Arctic—and on Svalbard—Norway seems fully aware of the archipelago’s strategic importance.
Sea changes for Northern Sea Route?
Stretched along Russia’s long Siberian coastline, the Northern Sea Route, also known as the Northeast Passage, is set to see more dramatic changes. With sea ice that’s receding, shipping traffic is expanding quickly: having had much to do with Russia’s major focus on developing the region’s natural resources, 2016 saw icebreakers escort over twice as many ships as in 2015 (TASS). No doubt playing the long game here, Russia has announced plans to build a maritime hub in the Far Eastern city of Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky, which would put the Northern Sea Route in an even better position with East Asia (Hellenic Shipping News, JOC).
TAKE 5: Less summer sea ice is in many ways a boon for Russia, especially since this can mean more industrial development. But how have the people who live along the Northern Sea Route been faring? That’s the question anthropologist Nikolai Vakhtin seeks to answer in an upcoming study. According to Vakhtin, there just isn’t information on how local, mainly Indigenous, populations have been impacted by development on the route (Huffington Post). In a time when big changes are happening quickly, it’s more important to know this than ever.