Of Arctic Oil Grabs and Greenland's Independence

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 6/20/2011 12:01:00 AM
Some rich men came and raped the land; nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes and Jesus people bought 'em
And they called it paradise--the place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea

[NOTE: I almost missed this one, but it's better late than never. Might as well cue up "The Last Resort" by The Eagles while you're at it.] There's something profoundly distasteful about the whole process of warming over Mother Earth to exploit her oil and gas resources in the Arctic. Which, when used, will further worsen global warming. As most of you know, melting of ice up North has prompted all sorts of manoeuvring to secure future exploration rights among the Nordic countries, Canada, the United States, and Russia. Recently, the major nations in the impending Arctic oil grab got together and signed the Nuuk Declaration. The World Policy Institute provides a brief description:
On May 12, the 7th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting convened in Nuuk, Greenland. The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum created to promote cooperation among the Arctic states. Its members are Canada, Denmark (via Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States. Permanent participants include indigenous organizations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) and the Saami Council. Unlike member states, permanent participants do not have voting rights.

The meeting, attended primarily by foreign ministers, produced the first legally binding agreement arrived at by the Arctic states since the formation of the Council in 1996. This agreement requires states to cooperate on search-and-rescue operations, including giving permission for all states to traverse foreign waters when necessary. The eight Arctic states also formally agreed to jointly develop measures for oil pollution preparedness. Finally, the Nuuk Declaration also noted that the Arctic sea ice is melting at a faster rate than previously predicted, accelerating access to oil and gas reserves and opening up new sea routes for commerce and tourism.
However, the more interesting behind-the-scenes story involves diplomatic manoeuvring by the main players. While the Nuuk Declaration was being negotiated, WikiLeaks published a series of cables online pertaining to US policies concerning the Arctic. We might as well use some "Internet Freedom" right here, ey? (This story involves our Canadian friends so the lingo should be accurate ;-) As it turns out, the haughty Americans who usually avoid intrusions on national sovereignty at the UN are now considering signing on to UN Convention on the Law of the Sea according to leaked cables. This to be better placed to economolest Mother Earth when the time comes. From the first cable:
4. (C) D said the Administration continued to urge the Senate to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and had not given up all hope of achieving this during the Bush Administration. Ratification was clearly in the U.S. interest. [Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig] Moeller agreed, joking that "if you stay out, then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic."
Then there are predictions verging on the edge of conspiracy theory that future energy revenues will allow Greenland to become independent of Denmark. Naturally, major American energy firms are keen on approaching the players there for...future collaborations. These from Cable 129049 from the Copenhagen embassy in 2007:
2. (SBU) Summary: Greenland is on a clear track toward independence, which could come more quickly than most outside the Kingdom of Denmark realize.

3. (SBU) With Greenlandic independence glinting on the horizon, the U.S. has a unique opportunity to shape the circumstances in which an independent nation may emerge. We have real security and growing economic interests in Greenland, for which existing Joint and Permanent Committee mechanisms (described reftel A) may no longer be sufficient. American commercial investments, our continuing strategic military presence, and new high-level scientific and political interest in Greenland argue for establishing a small and seasonal American Presence Post in Greenland's capital as soon as practicable. End Summary.

14. (SBU) One senior Greenlandic official commented recently that his country (Greenlanders and many Danes alike routinely refer to Greenland as a ""country"") is "just one big oil strike away" from economic and political independence.

Chevron and ExxonMobil are part of an international consortium exploring off Greenland's western coast, and the U.S. Geological Survey is completing an assessment of Greenland's potential oil and gas reserves. Its initial findings suggest Greenland might have reserves to rival Alaska's North Slope. To help the Greenlanders secure the investments needed for such exploitation, I recently introduced Home Rule Premier Enoksen and Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs Aleqa Hammond to some of our top U.S. financial institutions in New York.
Hence the US engaging in all sorts of public relations efforts in Greenland. This being the 21st century, there's even paranoia about the Chinese wanting in on the action and thus the need to ward them off:
Our international visitor invitations, English teaching programs and joint scientific/environmental projects have reinforced Greenlandic desires for a closer relationship with the United States, just as Greenland assumes ever-greater charge of its international relations and edges closer to full independence. Our intensified outreach to the Greenlanders will encourage them to resist any false choice between the United States and Europe. It will also strengthen our relationship with Greenland vis-a-vis the Chinese, who have shown increasing interest in Greenland's natural resources… While Greenland has long been believed to possess significant hydrocarbon and mineral stocks, only in the last three to four years -- with the rise in world oil prices -- have international investors have begun to seriously explore Greenland's potential. An American Presence Post in Greenland would provide us with the needed diplomatic platform to seek out new opportunities and advance growing USG interests in Greenland.
Just when I was going to reach for my hankie over how all these nations were concerned about "the conservation, sustainable use and protection of Arctic flora and fauna for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations, including local populations and indigenous peoples" as per the Nuuk Declaration, I was plunged back to naked reality. It's an Arctic land grab, plain and simple. Will Greenland really be the 194th country after South Sudan? A question worth pondering, perhaps.

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
Cause there is no more new frontier

We have got to make it here

We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds

In the name of destiny and the name of God