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.
US conglomerate offers to buy Canadian diamond mining company for cool $1.2 billion
A subsidiary of Montana-based conglomerate The Washington Companies has offered to purchase the Canadian Dominion Diamond Corporation for $1.2 bil. USD (CBC, Petroleum News). Dominion, which is based in Calgary, is one of the world’s largest diamond companies, and the acquisition means that Washington would have a controlling interest in two diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, Ekati and Diavik, which are among the most valuable in the world (The Star).
TAKE 1: The Ekati and Diavik mines respectively began operations in 1998 and 2003, with the former having the distinction of being Canada’s first diamond mine. In spite of this development being relatively recent, mining dominates the NWT’s economy: so an ownership shuffle of the mines (although mining giant Rio Tinto will still own 60% of Diavik) could indeed play out in a significant way, although Washington says the deal, which would replace Dominion’s CEO, would see the company be operated as though it was a stand-alone firm (Petroleum News). Meanwhile, for Indigenous people in the area, as in many other parts of Canada and the circumpolar north, the mining industry has been full of opportunities, but also drawbacks. While mines have meant training and jobs, these will last only as long as the mines are in production; they also alter the migration of wildlife like caribou.
Arctic oil in the US: The debate rages on
The head of the US Coast Guard has now weighed in on oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic waters, stating in no uncertain terms that there just isn’t enough capacity to deal with a spill if one were to happen. Comparing a hypothetical spill in the Arctic to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill which took place in relatively good conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, Admiral Paul Zukunft said in a speech last week, “I can assure you… we’re not going to recover all that oil” (Oil Change International, MarEx). Meanwhile, discussing the possibility of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Angus King (ME) respectively called for international cooperation in disaster prevention and more scientific data for developing policy (UPI).
TAKE 2: Of course, money also talks, and as long as oil prices stay low, it’s unlikely that oil and gas companies would be inclined to drill in the Arctic: especially after several large companies bailed out of $2.5 billion worth of drilling rights just last year (UPI). But political winds can also be just as fickle as their economic counterparts. Murkowski recently came under fire from both President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke for a recent Senate vote (ADN); while Alaskan resources are of stated importance to US energy policy, at the end of the day, the determination of such is a political matter.
Back in the Barents, Greenpeace keeps the heat on Norway
Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace was at a Norwegian oil platform in the Barents Sea last week to protest oil drilling in the Arctic (Reuters). 29 activists including actor Lucy Lawless were on board Greenpeace’s ship Arctic Sunrise that took them to a rig operated by Statoil (NZ Herald, Upstream Online). The organization and its ship made the news again last week when the international Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Russia owes it close to $6 billion in damages for having arrested 28 activists and two journalists during a similar protest at a Russian rig in the Barents in 2013 (Moscow Times).
TAKE 3: The latest voyage of the Arctic Sunrise is in advance of a court hearing in November between Greenpeace and the Norwegian government: the organization sued Norway for failing to uphold both the Paris Agreement and its own constitution in continuing to drill for oil in Arctic waters (Upstream Online). The country may be approaching a difficult crossroads: although it is a vocal advocate of climate-friendly policy, at the same time, its economy highly depends on oil, which draws an increasing amount of criticism from both Norwegians and the international community (FT).
Seismic testing ruled a no-go in Nunavut
In a huge win for the Nunavut hamlet of Clyde River, the Supreme Court of Canada recently poured cold water on plans to use seismic testing in the Arctic, which the Baffin Island and Inuit-majority hamlet had been trying to do for 6 years (CBC, Global News). An underwater technology used by resource industry to explore the potential of resources like oil, it is sometimes called seismic blasting because it can involve the underwater detonation of explosives, working in a similar way to sonar.
TAKE 4: A major reason why residents of Clyde River were so opposed to seismic testing is that it can be harmful to wildlife like whales and deter them from areas where testing is taking place. But the entirety of its impacts weren’t fully elaborated in the consultation process, which helped tip the scales in favor of Clyde River (NN). Canadian law specifies that a party interested in developing a resource has a “duty to consult” any Indigenous communities that would be impacted by it. While the Clyde River ruling firms up the distinction between adequate and poor consultation, the Court also stated that Indigenous people don’t have veto power over whether development can occur on their land, citing needing to balance “competing societal interests” (CBC).
Perils of melting ice: Pollution and earthquakes?
Methane isn’t the only thing that can rise out of melting Arctic ice, although a recent study did find more of the stuff leeching out of Canadian permafrost (Motherboard, Phys.org). Pollutants from the south often find their way to the Arctic, where they stay put for being essentially frozen in place; but, as a recent study on the Greenland ice sheet concluded, more attention needs to be paid to the rapid increase in ice melt because it could pollute the environment around it (Science Daily). And could earthquakes be part of the picture, too? That’s what some scientists in Alaska are currently researching, investigating whether glacial melt could be enough to pull the trigger on tectonic plate shifts if it’s close enough to a fault line (ADN).
TAKE 5: Changes occurring in the Arctic thanks to its rapid warming are happening in fairly expected ways—such as the loss of permafrost and glaciers—but also in ways that aren’t as easily foreseeable or expected, like the potential for more earthquakes. Finding out about the latter is important for obvious reasons, but in order to get there, it’s all about the magic combination of scientific boots on the ground and innovative scientific minds.