The Arctic This Week: 24 March -31 March, 2014

Courtesy of Mads Pihl on flickr
The Arctic This Week 2014:12

Welcome and thanks for joining us this week! We are back after a short break from production last week owing to The Arctic Institute’s activities at the Arctic Dialogue conference in Bodø, Norway. Great to see so many The Arctic This Week readers there and thank you for the wonderful feedback on TATW. We work hard every week to make TATW a comprehensive, readable and useful guide to weekly events and coverage across the Arctic. Please feel free to reach out to us directly is you have any feedback on TATW’s contents, its layout, what we’ve included or what we’ve missed, or anything at all related to TATW. If you’re not a subscriber yet, you can sign up here. You can find the PDF version here.

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Begin this week with The Council on Foreign Relations recently released InfoGuide Presentation on “The Emerging Arctic.” The guide is a valuable resource with helpful content, videos, a timeline and graphics. Plus, it looks pretty!

Next, move on to the also pretty (check out the map on page 3), though less interactive, briefing from the Center for a New American Security on Emerging Arctic Security Challenges by James Kraska and Betsy Baker. The paper identifies the Arctic’s emerging security challenges and indicates how the United States can “lead and shape, rather than be shaped” by rapid change in the region.

Also of note on the political front this week is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report on climate change which was released this week following UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to Greenland to assess the impacts of climate change. You can find a summary of the 32-volume report (we’d be cruel if we suggested you read the whole thing) on the IPCC’s website.

In energy reads this week, take some time reading a new Policy Brief from the Brookings Institution titled Offshore Oil and Gas Governance in the Arctic: A Leadership Role for the U.S. The lengthy report includes a concise and focused summary and recommendations section upfront and argues for increased US efforts on strengthening the oil and gas governance framework for the Arctic. While recognizing that a legally binding, Arctic-wide treaty governing Arctic oil and gas development is, at this point, a bridge too far, the report calls for strengthening the Arctic Council’s hand in dealing with oil and gas matters (without, however, changing the Council’s mandate or legal character), while continuing to work bilaterally with willing states to strengthen governance of the Arctic’s oil and gas sector.

In the science news this week, a video by Birding Iceland shows the fascinating encounter between a White-tailed Eagle and an Arctic Fox, trying to steal the bird’s prey (Birding Iceland).

After Ellen DeGeneres raised USD 1.5 million for the Human Society of the United States with her Oscar “selfie” and publically criticized the seal hunt on her website, advocates of the hunt retaliated by posting their own “sealfies” (G&M). To see some of the “sealfies”, see The Huffington Post.

For this week’s military read of the week, check out this photo gallery on documenting the recently completed Exercise Cold Response in northern Norway. Some 16,000 troops from 16 different countries participated.

Pouring cold water in the Arctic shipping hype, Canada’s Transport Minister Lisa Raitt dashed hopes when she stated last week that she does not expect the Northwest Passage to become a viable shipping route soon. Raitt views the shortcomings of the route as outdoing the possible advantages such as time savings. She further pointed to a number of concerns that need to be addressed, including shallow passes, a lack of navigational markers and the possibility of oil spills (G&M).

In mining reads, see this article in Yukon News that highlights the Yukon First Nations’ Resource Conference in Whitehorse, Yukon, last week and provides an example of fruitful collaboration between First Nations and mining companies to facilitate development in Canada’s north that is responsive the First Nations’ needs and demands.

Finally, see Mia Bennett’s excellent interview with Arctic Corridor spokesman Timo Lohi at Cryopolitics. The project aims to link northern Finland with potential Arctic shipping via railroad.


Ban Ki-Moon visits Greenland

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited Greenland last week to assess the impacts of climate change (US News, Euronews, AIR, in Russian). The UN said the visit “was aimed at building momentum ahead of the summit he will convene in September on climate change,” which he has invited Greenlandic premier Aleqa Hammond to address (AJ). Mr. Ban’s trip also coincided with the publication of the IPCC’s new report on climate change (The Huffington Post). The 2,610-page report, which was released Monday, is a forceful call to action that journalist Jon Snow has called “a pretty terrifying document” (Snowblog). The Secretary-General said he was “deeply alarmed” by the evidence of climate change in Greenland, and called climate change “the most serious threat the world faces” (AJ). For more related to climate change and the Arctic, see the Center for American Progress’s new report, “Why a Melting Arctic Could Sink the Global Economy.”

Arctic cooperation: the show must go on?

The Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) met in Yellowknife, Canada last week (The Arctic Council, CBC). At the meeting, the second for SAOs since Canada assumed chairmanship of the Council, officials agreed to move forward with the creation of the Arctic Economic Council, a circumpolar business forum intended to promote sustainable social and economic development in the region (BO). Greenpeace protesters, angered by the Council’s “wall of silence” and “lack of transparency” (AJ), demonstrated against the group’s vision for Arctic economic development, which protestors said shouldn’t “deplete the resources and put the air and the water at risk” (CBC).

The SAO meeting, held “in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” drew attention to Arctic Cooperation in the wake of tensions between Russia and the West (AJ). While some spectators predict that productive Arctic cooperation will continue despite tensions (CBC, Carnegie Moscow Center), a slew of articles were published this week questioning the impact of Russian actions in Ukraine on relations between Arctic countries. We’ve collected these articles for you in our Russia section below.

Last week, the Russian government introduced a draft presidential decree on the composition of the Russian Arctic zone (AIR, in Russian). The draft decree – "On the content of the lands of the Russian Arctic territories" – defines the land boundaries of the Russian Arctic. The decree defines the “Arctic zone” to include all of the Murmansk, Yamal-Nenets, Nenets, and Chukotka regions as well as portions of Yakutia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the Arkhangelsk region (BN).
Consul General of Finland in St. Petersburg was in favor of cooperation with Russia (AIR, in Russian).

The Nordics

United States



25 years after ExxonValdez – what have we learned?

The 25-year anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, this week has led some to ask how much the US and the global community has learned from the disaster (Pacific Environment). There were numerous stories that focused on the lingering impacts the oil spill is having on the ecology of Prince William Sound, including coverage by NPR, Aljazeera, Huffington Post, and Mashable. Some pointed out that responding to an oil spill in the Arctic will be immensely more challenging than in Prince William Sound, which, being located in southcentral Alaska, was a fairly short distance from major ports such as Anchorage and Seattle (Ocean Conservancy). Although the timing may have been a coincidence, US Senator Mark Begich introduced a bill to provide more funding for Arctic oil spill response, including action to return a heavy icebreaker to active service and new rules for spill response plans (Bloomberg). An article in the Telegraph looks at the lingering impact the spill has had on the region, and how ExxonMobil continues to fight against further fines for the incident in the courts. Elsewhere in the Arctic, the anniversary led many to question the race to develop Arctic oil. An editorial in the Nunatsiaq News says that northern communities will suffer the ill effects of oil development in the Arctic, while in Norway the Norwegian Environmental Agency is calling for caution in releasing new oil and gas leases in ice-impacted regions of the Barents Sea (BO).

New North Slope gas pipeline plan winds its way through Alaska’s legislature

Following the political machinations behind the steady evolution of Alaska’s proposed North Slope LNG pipeline plan can be challenging. A particularly puzzling aspect is the role played by Canadian pipeline company TransCanada, which was at one time the lead interest in a previous incarnation of the project, but now a participant amongst many in a broad coalition that includes the major North Slope producers and the State of Alaska. Pat Forgey sheds some light in TransCanada’s role in an article this week for the Alaska Dispatch. State legislators, meanwhile, are grappling with the details as they try to craft legislation to guide the massive project. While some have projected the project will bring in up to USD 4.5 billion in revenue for the state, others have warned that any revenue projections are, at this point, very premature and likely no better than a wild guess (AD). Oil and gas consultants have also warned legislators that because the state is taking an ownerhsip stake in the project, it could be on the hook for up to USD 500 million even if the project doesn’t go forward (AD). Oil companies, meanwhile, are encouraging legislators to keep all terms on the table when it comes to negotiating the details of the mega-project. There is some concern amongst legislators that oil companies may use negotiations over the pipeline to readdress the issue of oil and gas taxes (FNM).

Energy development in the Russian Arctic moves ahead, with geopolitical speedbumps

Development of the Toraveiskoye oil field in the Timan-Pechora region is on schedule with the first oil being shipped by truck from the new fields in March (AIR, in Russian). Large-scale production at the nearby Trebs and Titov oil fields will begin in 2016 according to Bashneft and Lukoil representatives (AIR, in Russian). French company Total has (again?) confirmed that it will purchase 4 million tons of LNG from the Yamal LNG project over the next quarter century (AIR, in Russian). Gazprom announced that long-delayed production at the Arctic offshore Prirazlomnaya rig will finally begin this month (NORA Region Trends). Reporting by Greenpeace this week revealed what many suspected: the rush to open Russia’s Arctic regions to oil and gas exploration has led to massive encroachment on federally protected areas, including National Parks and Nature Reserves (Greenpeace). While such revelations are not likely to affect decisions in the board rooms of prominent Russian energy companies, the appeal places US companies who are partnering on projects in the Russian Arctic in an uncomfortable position. Greenpeace also launched a protest last week in the Norwegian port of Olen against an oil platform destined for a joint ExxonMobil-Rosneft drilling project in the Kara Sea (AIR, in Russian).

Recent events in Ukraine have obviously increased the discomfort for companies such as ExxonMobil with massive interests in the Russian Arctic. In an interesting blog post for FuelFix, Amy Myers Jaffe argues that the Ukraine crisis and associated economic sanctions against Russia may provide ExxonMobil an easy way out of what are already very risky and questionable investments in the Russian Arctic. And the discomfort extends far beyond ExxonMobil. Reporting by Doug Norlen for the Huffington Post revealed that the US Export-Import Bank, a federal credit agency that finances foreign purchases of US goods, was planning to finance many millions of dollars of purchases by the Yamal LNG project. The Export-Import Bank has since announced that the financing is on hold, though not canceled, as the ownership percentages of sanctioned individuals in the LNG project are not large enough to sanction the entire project (HP). For its part, Novatek, the majority owner of the project, sees no major impacts for the project from US sanctions on Novatek CEO and co-owner Leonid Mikhelson (Reuters). The crisis will likely continue to push Russia’s energy pivot to the Asia-Pacific as Russian oil and gas become politically unpalatable in Europe and North America (Bloomberg). Will Russia attempt to corner the Asian LNG market by restricting transshipment across the Northern Sea Route? An interesting aside poses this question in an article this week from IHS Maritime.

Hyundai’s production of a floating platform intended for use at the Goliat oil and gas field in the Barents Sea will be postponed another 6 months, and there is concern that numerous construction shortcuts mean that the platform will not stand up to the harsh conditions at the site (BO).
North Energy buys into the Halten Terrace (HNN, in Norwegian).              

While a bill to provide funding for a new power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is still being debated, state legislators were kind enough to pencil in emergency funding for the university should the school’s 50 year old coal generator break down before Juneau gets its act together (FNM). Though the project lacks funding, the university hosted an open house for contractors to tour the proposed site for the new generator, perhaps a ploy to get the business community in Fairbanks to apply some pressure on state legislators to hurry up with the funding bill (FNM).

An editorial in last week’s New York Times by Jacques Leslie asks is Canada is tarring itself in its push to develop the Alberta oil sands (or tar sands, depending upon your political inclination). Leslie places oil sands development within the context of the Harper government’s wider energy development policy and its troubling muzzling of government scientists. Canadians living in close proximity of Alberta oil sands have long complained of negative health effects. An article this week in the Northern Journal picks up the story of residents of the Peace River area who filed an injunction against a nearby oil sands site which they say is negatively impacting health in their communities.



The Arctic’s dynamic ecosystems

A research team led by Legagneux and Gauthier of Université Laval, Quebec, Canada, examined food web dynamics in the Arctic. Their study recently published in Nature reveals that the structure and functioning of the Arctic ecosystem is shaped by climate and the body size of herbivores. While herbivores’ size affects predator-prey interactions, temperature is also of great importance in shaping the ecosystem. The researchers concluded that climate change and warming in the Arctic could change present interactions (SD).

Evergreens restrict Arctic response to climate change

Tara Zamin and Paul Grogan, both at Queen’s University, Canada, as well as Donie Bret-Harte of the University of Alaska Fairbanks conducted research on the impact of climate change on Arctic vegetation. Using experimental greenhouses in the NWT, Canada, they show that fast-growing deciduous shrubs are competing against the slow-growing evergreen shrubs, which are well adapted to the infertile soils of the Arctic tundra. If the evergreens outcompete deciduous shrubs, they would restrict soil nutrient availability and could impede the tundra’s responsiveness to climate change (Queen’s University). The study was published in the Journal of Ecology.


Flora and fauna
Book recommendation: Tundra-Taiga Biology by Robert M. M. Crawford (Oxford University Press).

Expeditions & research blogs
Kane’s Mysterious Waters: Transient Polynyas (the search for the Franklin expedition) (Arctic Visions).



Arctic Fallout from Ukraine Crisis Continues

Condemning “Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and the use of armed force in Ukraine” as a “clear violation of international law and…unacceptable action that must have consequences,” Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide announced that Norway was suspending bilateral military activities with Russia; several visits by Russian personnel to Norway and participation in upcoming exercises have been cancelled (BO and High North News, in Norwegian). The United States and Canada have already taken similar action. The Ukraine crisis had led to some speculation that the Arctic could be the next area over which the United States and Russia clash (DefenseOne). However, other experts believe that the consequences of the current freeze are unlikely to have significant long-term ramifications, with both countries invested in maintaining cooperative relations in the region (BO). Indeed, even amidst the current crisis, Russian observers attended the recently concluded Exercise Cold Response, and planned cooperation between Norway and Russia’s respective border commissions is expected to continue unaffected (AIR, in Russian and BO).

U.S. Navy continues steps towards building expanded presence in Arctic

The U.S. Navy continues to examine how to build up its presence in the region while simultaneously coping with an ever-expanding threat environment and a seemingly ever-shrinking budgetary environment (Stripes). As part of ICEX 2014, the USS New Mexico deployed to the Arctic to engage in a show-of-force exercise, in which a simulated Russian Akula-class submarine was targeted (WSJ). Among those onboard was NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman. The Navy had established a small temporary ice camp – Camp Nautilus – to support the exercises, but was ultimately forced to dismantle it due to inclement ice conditions (Reuters and Circa). If you like submarines, or ice, or videos, check out the U.S. Navy’s YouTube account for video of the New Mexico surfacing during ICEX 2014.

United States


SAR teams have carried out exercises near Nadym in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (AIR, in Russian).
The nuclear submarines Alexander Nevsky and Vladimir Monomakh are expected to be transferred from the Northern Fleet to the Pacific Fleet in 2015 (AIR, in Russian).

The Simmons Foundation has published a new report on the Arctic Patrol Vessel project.


As the city of Kiruna is moved to make way for additional mining development, many entities will be taking part in the construction of the “new” Kiruna (HNN, in Norwegian).

Northern Resources is considering selling the Hannukainen mine in Northern Finland, an iron mine which is scheduled to open later this year, pending the approval of permits (HNN, in Norwegian).

While Greenland’s mining potential has received significant press over the last year, an article in the Arctic Journal points out that uncertainties concerning Greenland’s regulatory regime may be discouraging mining companies from investing in new mines there.

Prohibitions on foreign companies mining in Russia’s north are inhibiting development of some promising gold deposits on Russia’s Kola Peninsula (BO).



New fisheries agreement between Norway and the Faroe Islands

Last week, the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands agreed on fishing quotas and cooperation on fisheries, effectively ending a long-running North Atlantic fisheries dispute (High North News, in Norwegian). If you speak some Norwegian, have a look at the agreement text here (Regjeringen, in Norwegian). According to Arctic Info, Iceland refused to participate as it disagreed with the quotas calculated by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (AIR, in Russian). This “mackerel” agreement was criticized by Styrmir Gunnarsson, former editor-in-chief of Morgunbladid, Iceland’s oldest newspaper. He compared the “clumsy conspiracy” against Iceland to the Suez crisis (AJ).

Discussion on sustainable fishing in the Arctic on May 7 at the Norway House in Brussels, Belgium (High North News).

Opening a new page in Arctic collaboration (Blog from IMO Secretary-General).

Other business and economic news
Polar Navigation (drones) (Ici Radio Canada, in French).


68% of Inuit households in Nunavut food insecure

A new report published by the Council of Canadian Academies explores Aboriginal Food Security in Northern Canada. The authors of the report, which “shows Nunavut has the highest rate of food insecurity of any indigenous population in any developed country” (The Toronto Sun), say they hope it will help “direct northern food security research to priority areas” (CBC). 

Ellen Degeneres prompts backlash of “sealfies”

When Ellen DeGeneres raised USD 1.5 million for the Human Society of the United States with her twitter-crashing “selfie” (The Guardian) at this year’s Oscars and publically criticized the seal hunt on her website, advocates of the hunt responded by posting their own “sealfies” (G&M). To see some of the sealfies, see The Social, The Huffington Post, Flickr, and Twitter



Polar Peoples: Migration and Population change in the Arctic (George Washington University Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies).
Ombudsmen discuss Yamal rights of indigenous peoples (AIR, in Russian).

People on the edge of the world (Arte, in German).


A group of Airbus engineers is in Iqaluit testing an A350 in cold-weather conditions; Iqaluit is trying to market itself as an ideal location for cold-weather testing of all varieties (CNN).

Reconstruction work on several airports in the Chukchi region will begin this year (AIR, in Russian).
Tiksi airport will begin to service direct flights to Moscow following the completion of runway renovations (AIR, in Russian).

Avinor asked to prepare new airport in Rana (High North News, in Norwegian).
4.5 million NOK to development in Narvik (High North News, in Norwegian).

United States




United States


On flickr this week, check out two cool igloo shots-- Homestead and Keep The Home Fires Burning -- posted by Clare Kines, as well as shots of drummers delighting diners and a snow castle-turned-venue posted by the Arctic Council. Ecojackiejo, arcticmusher, adamhillstudios, hklaube02, northiceland, universityofsoutherndenmark, and sarahcrawf posted Arctic-related photos on Instagram this week, while on twitter, JimShockey, Beringseabarbie, Greatbigseas, Alexhibbert, and theglobalguide posted pictures. 4 News posted a cool panoramic photo taken in eastern Greenland and Exposure Guide put out a nice collection of Stunning Visuals of Arctic Locations.

In photo-related news, NWT photographer Dave Brosha is offering to mentor “one lucky burgeoning photo snapper” over the next year. Interested applicants should apply by April 13 (NJ).

Abbreviation Key
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)
Aftenbladet (AB)
Alaska Business Monthly (ABM)
Alaska Dispatch (AD)
Alaska Journal of Commerce (AJC)
Alaska Native News (ANN)
Alaska Public Media (APM)
Anchorage Daily News (ADN)
Arctic Info (Russian) (AIR)
Arctic Institute (TAI)
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 Daily News-Miner (FNM)
Financial Times (FT)
Globe and Mail (G&M)
Government of Canada (GOC)
Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)
Huffington Post (HP)
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)
Johnson’s Russia List (JRL)
Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa (KNR)
Lapin Kansa (LK)
Moscow Times (MT)
National Geographic (NG)
Natural Gas Europe (NGE)
Naval Today (NT)
New York Times (NYT)
Northern Journal (NJ)
Northern News Service Online (NNSO)
Northern Public Affairs (NPA)
Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI)
Nunatsiaq News (NN)
Oil & Gas Journal (OGJ)
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)
Yukon News (YN)