The Arctic This Week: 6 Apr 2013 - 12 Apr 2013

The Arctic This Week 2013:15

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Thanks for joining us this week! We hope you find TATW useful and fun to read. If you haven’t yet tried them out, you might want to take a look at our illustrated, clickable PDF version or at our weekly News Map.

Due to the authors’ travel, we’re offering a much shorter version this week, with an unabashedly subjective selection of our favorite writing from each section.

As always, all editorial choices, opinions and any mistakes are the author’s own. To comment or to request a back issue, feel free to contact Tom directly. If you find TATW valuable, please spread the word! We’ve also learned that LinkedIn is quite popular among our readers; if you’re one of these folks, we invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn.

Reads of the Week

From this week’s reduced crop of articles, two in particular stand out. The first is a photo-blog from Mark Buesing, one of the teachers aboard NASA’s IceBridge mission, about his first flight with the team (Polartrec). The second is a surprisingly in-depth exploration from the CBC of changes made to the plans for Canada’s Arctic offshore patrol ships; in trying to make some cost-cutting redesigns, the government may have ultimately rendered the ships valuable neither as icebreakers nor as more all-purpose patrol ships.

The Political Scene

We’ll start by commending to your attention two thick documents. The first is a special edition of Northern Public Affairs looking at the Northwest Territories’ recent devolution agreement (this is not brand-new, but has lots of good content). As a nice complement to that, explore how citizens in the Northwest Territories view devolution as a whole. Check out this recent survey.

The second monster document, which I deeply wish I could read, is “Japan’s diplomatic strategy and governance in the Arctic,” from the Japan Institute of International Affairs. Thanks to Aki Tonami for providing us a summary of the paper’s recommendations on Twitter – check out her Twitter feed to see for yourself.

The Arctic News Map
An Arctic Council meeting in Salekhard, Russia prompted a statement from Russia’s representative Anton Vasiliev about Russia’s interest in a “balance of economic [and] ecological interests in the Arctic” (VOR). An interesting article in New Eastern Europe looks at Russia’s Arctic strategy writ large, making some good points about the country’s unique political situation both internally and externally. The Arctic Council representatives apparently visited Russia’s floating research station Barneo at the same time as the ongoing Greenpeace North Pole expedition; it doesn’t seem that the groups met.

In the US, the exit of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (his video farewell here) and the confirmation of the new Secretary Sally Jewell (FuelFix) means a new chief of one of the most powerful organizations overseeing offshore drilling in federal waters.

In other political news of note, Iceland may be ready to sign a free-trade deal with China (EU Observer), and Nunavut is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NN).


It’s been a week rich with developments in the energy sector. In Russia, Minister of Natural Resources Sergey Donskoy pointed out that seismic surveys of the Pechora and Barents Seas are extremely spotty right now, and that serious exploration will need to wait until better data is available (BO). While that announcement was focused on Russia’s western Arctic, Rosneft announced toward the end of the week that it would be sinking USD 1.5 billion into seismic surveying of the country’s eastern Arctic shelf (Rigzone). It also announced more detailed plans for a USD 15 billion LNG plant which it will develop with ExxonMobil in the East; the plant will process Sakhalin gas for sale into Eastern markets (CNBC). Nor is that the end of it – word is that Rosneft is also beginning to spar with Gazprom for rights to some Arctic offshore licenses (BO), while Novatek is lobbying for the right to ship LNG from the Yamal project to European ports during the winter, when the route to Asia is, or may be, closed (Reuters). Natural Gas Europe sees each company’s recent deals with China as marking “Rosneft’s ascendancy and Gazprom’s fall”, and it certainly is fascinating to watch the two giants jockey for position.

Whatever may be going on between Rosneft and Gazprom, the latter had some big news of its own this week. It announced that it had struck a deal with Dutch major Shell to develop two offshore Arctic fields in the Chukchi and Pechora Seas (WP). For the official Dutch perspective on Dutch-Russian energy cooperation in general, scan the speech from the Netherlands’ Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp. An additional agreement-in-principle between the Dutch and the Russians to expand the Nord Stream pipeline complex (no concrete plans yet) also drew attention (Jamestown Foundation – note that the Dutch Prime Minister makes President Putin look tiny). This ties in with Gazprom’s suggestion that, in the future, it will only export gas to Europe via pipelines in which it has a majority stake (NGE). Meanwhile, confusion and irritation reign in Poland over the proposed construction of a Yamal-Europe-2 pipeline (ITAR-TASS, Warsaw Business Journal).

Next door in Norway, a well co-owned by many multinational firms near the Skrugard oil field has come up dry in exploratory drilling (Reuters). Norway is meanwhile investing in research into new technologies that may help it to access hard-to-reach oil in isolated pockets more easily than ever before (Research Council of Norway, in Norwegian). And it seems that two representatives of Greenpeace, clad in polar bear costumes, made an ascent of a Statoil-owned rig which is ultimately bound for the Barents Sea (AB).

In the North American Arctic, reactions to the announcement that ConocoPhillips had decided to postpone its 2014 plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea (official announcement here) drew mixed reactions; the best of many articles on the decision comes from Alex DeMarban at Alaska Dispatch. There’s also an ongoing debate about proposed changes to the Alaska state oil tax regime, and in this case as well good writing on both sides (here an editorial pro, here an editorial con) comes from Alaska Dispatch. Next door, the Northwest Territories is also preparing to attract investment in the offshore energy sector in its portion of the Beaufort Sea (Financial Post).

A reflective post on the recent decisions to step back from Arctic exploration by Total, Statoil and ConocoPhillips comes from Greenpeace’s Charlie Kronick; he sees this as the herald of a gradual shift in investor sentiment away from a push for more hydrocarbons at any price. Well worth a read.

Science, Environment & Wildlife

First, a few articles on ice. NOAA’s piece arguing that we’re likely to see nearly ice-free summers in the Arctic by 2050 touched a nerve, and was broadly shared on social media. Additional research on the dramatic breakup of ice in the Beaufort Sea several weeks ago is meanwhile ongoing at the U of Alaska Fairbanks (Alaska Public Radio), while scientists from NASA’s IceBridge mission continue their runs over Greenland. Check out this great 60-second video from the team, as well as my very favorite post of the week, written/photographed by a wide-eyed Mark Buesing flying with the team on NASA’s P-3B. IceBridge overflies many glaciers, of course, and there’s new research into glacial lakes, how they form, how they drain, and what they may have to do with the speed of glaciers’ flow (Journal of Glaciology).

Several interesting new papers in disparate subjects came out this week as well. An absolutely excellent post from the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Germany covers the team’s research aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern on benthic life in the Arctic, while related and highly novel research begins to put numbers on the inflows and outflows of critical inorganic nutrients to/from the Arctic. They find that the Arctic Ocean is a net exporter of phosphate and silicate to the North Atlantic. Research from Norway is trying to get a better grasp of how tolerant different fish species are to concentrations of hydrocarbons, thus gaining better insight into the actual risks to fisheries of Arctic oil and gas activity.

And four final science articles for you to read. NASA is testing technologies on the North Slope of Alaska that could eventually be used in an even less hospitable environment – Mars (San Francisco Chronicle). The team polishing up its research on subglacial aquifers in Greenland did not have a uniformly easy time of it, battling some harsh weather in the middle of the night (NASA Earth Observatory). Some brave or foolhardy Canadian scientists have released research indicating that the government’s stated reasons for “streamlining” environmental-review processes are actually without much merit (Science Codex). The APECS team has been releasing a regular stream of video webinars that you can learn from, if you’ve got the time (APECS). These are almost universally on practical topics of interest and value to early-career scientists, and to many others as well!

Military / Search-&-Rescue

With sorrow, we prepare to bid farewell to the Rossiya, a 30 year old, two-reactor nuclear icebreaker from the Rosatom fleet (BO). While Rossiya prepares for a well-earned retirement, two Canadian think tanks are shredding their government’s plans to build Arctic offshore patrol ships that, in their effort to be both icebreakers and open-ocean ships, will be effective neither as icebreakers nor as open-ocean ships (CBC). Please all, and you please none. A recent event in Sweden on crisis management in the maritime Arctic was filmed; if you’ve got the time, the theme and the presentations are both interesting (Mistra Arctic Futures).

And in Alaska, the US government’s across-the-board budget cuts have meant the grounding of the F-16 fleet at Fairbanks’s Eielson Air Force Base…residents are not reacting positively to the news (FNM).


India signed an agreement to use Canadian uranium for peaceful purposes only, which opens the Indian market to Canadian miners (CMJ). Japan is meanwhile looking toward the Kiggavik project in Nunavut as a reliable source of uranium for nuclear reactors, which – the Fukushima disaster gradually fading into the past – the country expects to need in the years ahead (NN). Company Areva, which will operate the Kiggavik project, is clearly still hunting for the sweet spot in their communications at the territorial and community level (NN), and Nunavut’s uranium “watchdog” is pushing for a territory-wide vote on whether uranium mining should be allowed at all and, if so, with what restrictions (NN).

There’s plenty of other news in Nunavut mining. The formal hand-over of the Hope Bay mine in Nunavut from former owners Newmont to proud new parents TMAC Resources has been completed (NN). Elsewhere in the territory, Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine is hitting milestones and, gradually, clawing its way back to profitability (CBC). Important notes from the article: Meadowbank is Nunavut’s only operating mine, and it contributed 30% of the territory’s GDP in 2012. Wow. Meanwhile the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s executive director was frank with attendees at a recent conference about the lack of capacity – staff, funding, skills, etc. – that forces the organization to move slowly (NN). Next door in the Northwest Territories, the Ekati diamond mine has been sold from BHP Billiton to Canadian company Dominion (CBC). For more news – and there’s plenty more – from the Nunavut and NWT mining sectors, check out the latest edition of the Nunavut & NWT Chamber of Mines newsletter.

And lastly, one small piece from Russia: The country is considering opening up its minerals sector, particularly in the far East, to joint ventures with non-Russian companies (RBTH).

Fishing, Shipping & Other Business News

In shipping, we heard this week that the one-quarter of the Murmansk Shipping Company still owned by the Russian government is planned for sale this year (BN), while Sovcomflot gets ready to welcome a second icebreaking supply vessel from Arctech in Helsinki; the ship, christened Aleksey Chirikov, is the younger sister of the Vitus Bering (MarineLog). Further technological advances may, in the future, lead to crewless ships (!!!) (Gemini, in Norwegian).

For a cool overview of ship traffic in the Arctic as cataloged by Norway’s AISSat-1 satellite, check out this article from the Norwegian Space Center.

In fishing, APECS Director Dr. Alexey Pavlov is helping to control the population of halibut in Norwegian waters.

And in other business news, Finland (#1), Sweden (#3), Norway (#5), Denmark (#8) and the United States (#9) have all been identified as top-ten countries in the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index. What’s that? “[T]he Networked Readiness Index (NRI) measures the preparedness of an economy to use ICT to boost competitiveness and well-being” (WEF).

The Grab Bag

Now to a few final miscellaneous things that caught my attention. Eye on the Arctic, a critical source of news and opinion on Arctic issues, has re-launched its website in a nice, clean design. / The bones of the Franklin expedition’s team members have demonstrated high levels of lead, enough to poison them. But nobody seems to have a good idea of where it might have come from (CBC). / I’ve been following with great pleasure the photographs to come out of Biotope’s recent bird-watching festival in northern Norway; enjoy a nice post on that here (theinkednaturalist). / The International Peace Institute in the US came out with a report suggesting that Finland lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council because the Nordic countries have a “condescending attitude towards others” when it comes to “human rights, the rule of law, the responsibility to protect” (YLE). / The nuclear batteries that power lighthouses on the Northern Sea Route are gradually being retired, with the last expected to be replaced with wind/solar in 2015 (BO).

Abbreviation Key

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)
Christian Science Monitor (CSM)
Eye on the Arctic (EOTA)
Fairbanks News Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Government of Canada (GOC)
Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)
Huffington Post (HP)
Johnson’s Russia List (JRL)
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)
Moscow Times (MT)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
Naval Today (NT)
New York Times (NYT)
Northern News Service Online (NNSO)
Northern Public Affairs (NPA)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Ottawa Citizen (OC)
Petroleum News (PN)
RIA Novosti (RIAN)
Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH)
Russia Today (RT)
Voice of Russia (VOR)
Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
Washington Post (WP)
Whitehorse Star (WS)
Winnipeg Free Press (WFP)