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.
Although political stars align, oil companies not keen on US Arctic oil
In the US, much ado has been made over reinvigorating efforts to drill for oil in Alaska over the past several months. Undoing Obama’s ban on Arctic Ocean drilling is a long-term project for the new Trump administration. And with oil-friendly Republicans in charge of both the federal and Alaskan governments, now is prime time to push for kick starting more drilling, especially in the ever-contentious Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But the latest obstacle isn’t from environmentalists – it’s oil companies themselves. With the price of oil as low as $30 a barrel, the sentiment is that it’s not economically viable… at least at the moment (Real Clear Energy, FP).
TAKE 1: According to an analyst at Goldman Sachs, there’s “almost no rationale for Arctic oil exploration” (CNBC). It’s not just the low price of oil. Drilling for oil in the Arctic is very expensive, risky business because of the extreme conditions. Meanwhile, Trump’s proposed budget makes deep cuts to many federally-funded Alaskan programs (The Arctic Sounder)—so for a state that’s already hurting, things aren’t looking great at the moment.
Mixed feelings in Northern Canada with new federal budget
While the new Canadian federal budget has “nothing that’s really ground-shaking,” to Yukon Chamber of Commerce president Peter Turner, that’s more or less a good thing (CBC). Across the three Northern territories of Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, among other things, $3.4 billion over 5 years is set to go towards “areas of ‘critical need’” for Indigenous peoples, $300 million is earmarked for housing over 11 years, and $400 million goes to an Arctic Energy Fund that will help communities transition towards renewable energy (My Yellowknife Now, CBC). It’s a move in the right direction, but it’s also not entirely what many were hoping for: the leader of Yukon’s center-left party said she felt “underwhelmed and disappointed” particularly over the housing fund; the majority of the fund, $240 million, is destined for Nunavut, leaving about $2.2 million per year for Yukon (Yukon News).
TAKE 2: Housing is a big problem throughout Canada’s north, but especially Nunavut, which is essentially finding itself in a state of crisis with widespread overcrowding. The funding, although it is less than half of what Nunavut leaders were hoping for, will make a small dent in the issue, though not enough in a territory that is still struggling to find its feet.
Siberian methane bubbles have scientists worried
Siberia is known for its hydrocarbon riches like natural gas, and right now, its gas is in the spotlight: though not in a good way. Scientists have found 7,000 large underground gas bubbles containing high amounts of methane (a.k.a. natural gas) along with carbon dioxide throughout Siberia’s Yamal and Gydan peninsulas (Siberian Times). They think it has to do with thawing permafrost—a layer of soil that normally stays frozen year-round, but because of climate change, is starting to melt in increasing amounts (Science Alert). The bubbles, which in the local Yakut language are called “bulgunyakh,” have an unfortunate tendency to erupt, releasing gas into the atmosphere and creating massive craters in the tundra, which are starting to appear all over Siberia. Methane has also been found to be bubbling up through about 200 lakes in the same region (Siberian Times).
TAKE 3: Why care about methane? Well, it’s a very potent greenhouse gas, capable of warming the planet as much as 86 times more than carbon dioxide during the time it’s in the atmosphere (Scientific American). So with global warming essentially being behind more amounts of methane leaking out of permafrost, the fear is that if things keep heating up, a mass exodus of the gas into the atmosphere might happen: bringing on more warming.
“Historic” cooperation statement inked between Coast Guards of Arctic states
At the US Coast Guard base in Boston last week, leaders representing each of the eight Arctic states met at the Arctic Coast Guard Forum to sign a statement agreeing to cooperate on matters pertaining to emergency response like protocols and information sharing (Work Boat, MarEx). Having been originally established in 2015 with the vision of cooperating in an era of ever-growing maritime traffic in the Arctic, the Forum consists of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US (Boston Globe).
TAKE 4: Overall, cooperation between the eight Coast Guards is a brilliant—and much-needed—step towards better disaster management in a region known for its unpredictable conditions and remote expanses. However, as The Arctic Institute’s Andreas Østhagen points out, the agreement isn’t without its possible snags, given that Coast Guards are an important instrument in upholding state sovereignty rights, so a fine balance must be struck (MarEx).
Russia investing 1.32 billion rubles in Northern Indigenous peoples
At the Indigenous Peoples of the North Forum held in Salekhard last week, Magomedsalam Magomedov, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, made the announcement that the Kremlin is earmarking 1.32 billion rubles for Northern Indigenous peoples by 2025 (Arctic.ru). The money is intended to go towards supporting improving the quality of life generally as well as supporting culture; Moscow has also in the past been subsidizing economic development in Northern regions (Arctic.ru).
TAKE 5: With a major Arctic cleanup effort also underway and also set to finish in 2025 (Arctic.ru), Russia’s efforts at consolidating its presence in the Arctic is more than just about resources and the military—although these are pretty important. According to Harvard political scientist George Soroka, Russia is eager to show the international community that it is a great power, and not only that, but also the great Arctic power (Arctic Deeply). While power projection helps support that ambition, making sure people living in the North have opportunities is also part of it.