The Arctic This Week: 3 November - 9 November 2012

By Tom Fries The Arctic This Week – 3 November – 9 November 2012

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Thanks for joining us this week! The author is once again on travel, and this week’s briefing includes only the week’s most stand-out articles in military, political, science, energy and mining news. All editorial choices and any mistakes are the author's own. To comment or to request a back issue, feel free to contact the author directly.


This week produced an overwhelming number of very good articles, but fewer that struck me, at least, as truly excellent. If you’re pressed for time however, I suggest the following articles to keep yourself up-to-date.

If military news is your thing, my favorite assessment of the sudden dismissal of Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his replacement by Sergei Shoigu comes from the Russian Military Reform blog. It looks like Russia might also be undertaking new nuclear tests on Novaya Zemlya – read more in Russia beyond the Headlines. For the more political side of things, turn first to Dmitri Trenin’s frank article in Foreign Policy on the possible and likely future of US-Russia relations under a second Obama term, and follow that with a piece in Ottawa’s Hill Times arguing that Leona Aglukkaq is not the right person to lead Canada’s term at the helm of the Arctic Council.

On the energy front, dive into Rosneft’s acquisition of TNK-BP with excellent pieces from an odd couple: the Wall Street Journal and Greenpeace. Follow that with three (!) articles from Jen Dlouhy. First, she gives an excellent, concrete debrief of the challenges Shell has faced throughout this season in the Chukchi and the Beaufort ( She then takes a look at the unique way in which government inspectors have been engaged with the Alaskan rigs, which is a “dramatic departure from the practice in the Gulf of Mexico” ( Finally, she provides a crucial collection of official statements from NGOs and industry associations on the occasion of President Obama’s reelection. It will give you an excellent idea of what the US’s energy-policy dialogue might shape up like in the next four years.

Next you’ll want to move on to mining, where an excellent article from Spiegel explores in rich detail a mining boom in northern Finland. Follow that with my favorite article this week, which is on the icebreakers that Norilsk Nickel uses to cart their wares along the Arctic coast (Telegraph). End your reading with a fascinating article from Alaska Public Radio on the deployment of audio sensors underwater in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and what kind of information is being acquired as a result.


The sudden dismissal of Russia’s (ex-) Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his subsequent replacement by Sergei Shoigu made many wonder what, precisely, was behind the move. Of the several available articles on the matter, I suggest you turn first to the Russian Military Reform blog. Late in the week, the story developed a bit further with the announcement that the scope of the embezzlement investigation against the ministry had been expanded, and might be broadened further still (BN).

An increase in safety measures and deployment of staff and equipment on Novaya Zemlya leads Russia beyond the Headlines to the conclusion that a resumption of nuclear testing on (or, rather, under) the island is imminent. Their articles goes into some depth about the history and science of small-scale nuclear testing, and it is well worth your time to read. Follow that with a lengthy piece from Bellona on the Severodvinsk. Tartly written, the article captures nicely the full story of the submarine, and is a great warm-up to another short piece from Barents Observer looking at the sub’s successful launch of a Caliber cruise missile. The latter piece covers as well the challenge of categorizing these missiles under existing treaties between the US and Russia.

On to the United States: From field training exercises to rabies vaccinations, Arctic Sounder reviews the full scope of the US Coast Guard’s exercise Arctic Shield 2012, which ended on 1 November. The article is packed with information. And, lastly, to something completely different, an article from India’s Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict suggests that the country either does, or ought to, have some interest in developing an Arctic-ready navy.


Begin your reading with the excellent Dmitri Trenin’s frank article in Foreign Policy on the possible and likely future of US-Russia relations under a second Obama term. It’s not Arctic-themed, but will certainly be of interest to any Arctic observer. Barents Observer took a closer look instead at the impact that Russia’s drift towards political repression could have on the possibility of fruitful collaboration in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region, and authors Trude Pettersen and Thomas Nilsen provided a complementary debrief on the FSB’s attack on Ivan Moseev, an advocate for Russia’s indigenous Pomors. The FSB accused him of working with Norway to destabilize the “social-political situation in Arkhangelsk”.

The thicket of organizations focused on political and economic collaboration in the Barents Region can be tough to whack one’s way through. Norway, under its new presidency of the Nordic Council, will be looking for ways to tidy up the landscape (BO). The EU, meanwhile, should be working hard at getting better-engaged with Greenland, say Jonas Parello-Plesner and Damien Degeorges in ESharp.

Finish off with several articles from Canada, the first of which drew plenty of attention. In an opinion piece in the Hill Times, MP Denis Bevington wrote that the selection of Leona Aglukkaq, a Conservative, to lead Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council is dramatically out of step with the stated direction of most Arctic states. Meanwhile, a bill making its way through the Canadian legislature right now includes the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act, which would apparently streamline the review and approval process for mining projects in the territory. It also includes provision for the creation of a Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board which would have final say in disputes between resource companies and landowners (CBC). The Mining Association of Canada supports the bill (Mining Weekly), and some other parties are worried that it shifts favor towards corporations (CBC).


The scientific missions of the USCG Healy were debriefed neatly by Alaska Native News, while an article from Mother Jones plucked out a brief moment from the expedition as evocative of an overall change taking place in the North. Eye on the Arctic looked at a rapid rebound in the extent of Arctic ice, though we’re still not anywhere near the average for this time of year, while Nunatsiaq News explored the various possibilities that exist for geo-engineering a cooler planet. A fascinating article from Alaska Public Radio meanwhile covers the deployment of audio sensors underwater in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and what kind of information is being acquired as a result.

On to animals. Outside Online takes a look at how, exactly, polar bears might have become the political fire-starters they are today, while the US Coast Guard was confronted with mysterious oiled wildlife specimens off of St Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea (AD). There are small signs of improvement in the numbers of barren-ground caribou in the Northwest Territories (CBC), and adorable orphaned walrus Mitik, who just a couple of weeks ago flew to the New York Aquarium from Alaska, was probably frightened out of his wits with the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy (Green Global Travel). The aquarium will be closed indefinitely for repairs.

Finally, the discovery of human remains of indeterminate age in Alaska’s interior is a real – and rare – boon to anthropologists interested in the history of indigenous peoples in Alaska (FNM).


I wish there had been less high-quality writing in the energy section this week; it was tough to whittle down the collection. Nevertheless…


Rosneft’s acquisition of TNK-BP has led many to express concern about what this might mean for Russia’s oil industry, for investors in BP, and for the world at large. When this group of concerned observers includes both the Wall Street Journal and Greenpeace – the latter of whose investor briefing is a tidy, well-organized history and dissection of the deal – one can only conclude that there is probably reason to worry. Also making headlines this week was increased focus on the Japanese market for gas, prompted by the news that the tanker Ob River had taken on LNG at Hammerfest in Norway and is now sailing for Japan, which she will reach with her cargo in less than two weeks (BO). Speculation that Japanese companies had sealed a deal to build a 1400km pipeline from Sakhalin to Ibaraki prefecture was quickly stamped out by the companies themselves, who said that they’ve been doing some math but have not locked anything down (ITAR-TASS).

Two other brief items from Russia: The final investment decision for the Total/Novatek Yamal LNG project has been postponed into early next year (Reuters), while Novatek has paid $1.4bn for a minority half of Nortgas, which holds useful production licenses near to Novatek’s other work in the Russian North (also Reuters).

[United States]

Even in a selective collection of articles, Jen Dlouhy gets three citations this week. She continues to provide some of the best reporting available on Shell’s work off of Alaska’s northern coastline. This week, she goes point by point through some of the many challenges the company has faced throughout this season both while it worked and as it was trying to close up shop ( Popular Mechanics covers the same territory, also very well. Ms Dlouhy then takes a look at fascinating changes in the way government inspectors have been engaged with the Alaskan rigs, which is a “dramatic departure from the practice in the Gulf of Mexico” ( Ms Dlouhy also provides a CRUCIAL collection of official statements from NGOs and industry associations on the occasion of President Obama’s reelection. Nothing that any individual statement contains will surprise you, but read once through the collection and you’ll have an excellent idea of how the US’s energy-policy dialogue might shape up in the next four years.

Other useful reads on North American energy come from the Seattle Times, looking at the politicking around the protection of Lancaster Sound from seismic study, and from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, looking at a $255mn fine levied by the State of Alaska against BP and its associates on the North Slope for royalties the state lost when production was halted due to assorted unanticipated spills and repairs.


The Arctic Institute’s Andreas Østhagen explored a fundamental element of the discussion on Arctic oil & gas; that is, whether it is best viewed as a regional matter for Arctic states to decide and deal with, or if it is instead a global concern (TAI).

Norway this week took over from Abu Dhabi officially as the state with the richest sovereign wealth fund in the world (, but the fragility of the former country’s offshore infrastructure was highlighted when the residence platform Floatel Superior, home to 374, took on water and began to list, causing a full(ish) evacuation (AB).

Finally to Iceland, which has decided to collaborate with the World Bank on a massive development project exploring and advancing the use of geothermal energy in the countries along Africa’s Great Rift Valley (IceNews). Iceland isn’t just helping others, either; McKinsey has suggested that the country’s wisest step to a secure financial position would be to work on becoming a global center of green energy (IceNews).


My favorite article this week is on the icebreakers that Norilsk Nickel uses to cart their wares along the Arctic coast (Telegraph). If you like to marvel at big machines, you’ll enjoy it as well. A close second is an article dissecting an ongoing mining boom in northern Finland (Spiegel). Miners there are pursuing gold, nickel and uranium deposits, while local people are beginning to resist, wary of the environmental issues that might follow expansion of the mining industry nearby.

Also in Finland, a train wreck of sorts at the Talvivaara mine has captured Finnish headlines. Early in the week, one of the mine’s sediment ponds began to leak fairly dramatically (YLE). A couple of days later, the mining company was still hard at work to plug the leak, but was not having any appreciable success (YLE). Late in the week the leak seemed to be plugged, but only tenuously, with nickel, iron, gypsum and uranium residues all potentially running off into overflow pools (YLE). This week also saw the company release its Q3 report, showing a loss of €4.3mn (YLE).

Now, briefly, over to North America, where a review of a review (yes, that’s right) of the Pebble Mine was released this week by the EPA (AD). Next door in Canada, a potential uranium project in Nunavut and a potential fracking project in the Northwest Territories have been abandoned by the companies that own them, due apparently to the companies’ dissatisfaction with the regulatory processes they’ve been party to (CBC). Finally, Canadian Orebodies is purchasing a massive, coastal iron project in Nunavut (NN).


Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Barents Nova (BN)
Barents Observer (BO)
Bristol Bay Times (BBT)
BusinessWeek (BW)
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)