Arctic resource development inevitable and safe: Greenland
“We are now a full part of the global economy and we cannot hide away"
OTTAWA – Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist came out swinging Feb. 23 in favour of Greenland’s right to develop its offshore oil and gas reserves and mineral deposits.
Inuit leaders from around the circumpolar world are meeting this week in Ottawa to develop a collective position on resource development throughout the Arctic region.
But they appeared divided, with Greenland promoting rapid development in its quest for independence from Denmark.
“Companies from the outside have been exploiting natural resources in the Arctic area for centuries now. The Inuit didn’t. Now it’s our turn., “ Kleist told reporters. “It seems like now gradually the peoples of the Arctic are taking over powers then suddenly it becomes much more dangerous, risky and what else you might come up with.”
Now, Inuit hold the balance of power, he said — changing a situation that endured for hundreds of years.
“The change that’s been going on is that now we have the insight, we have the powers, we negotiate ourselves,” Kleist said. “We don’t allow federal governments just to hand over Inuit lands to companies to exploit the mineral resources. It’s in our hands… the difference is that it’s now us sitting at the end of the table, and of course the confrontations, wherever they might be, we need to face them.”
Climate change and the melting of the Greenland ice cap is no reason to pull the plug on development, he said.
“It’s not the fault of Greenland that the ice is melting,” he said. “Nobody believes that by tomorrow the need for fossil fuels will disappear just because of the ice melting.”
Kleist said Greenland, which currently relies on transfers from Denmark to supply most of its budget, needs money from its resources to develop its economy, social services and infrastructure — and work towards total independence from Denmark.
To date, Greenland has awarded a total of 20 offshore oil exploration permits, while Scotland’s Cairn Energy has applied to drill another four wells next year, subject to Greenland’s approval.
And, although Greenpeace has challenged Greenland’s offshore development, saying it’s too risky, given what happened last year after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, Kleist said Greenland has to “be honest facing the risks.”
With the cost of oil rising to more than $100 a barrel, due to upheavals in Libya, Arctic oil is more important than ever — and Kleist has said before that Greenland may have oil reserves as great as those of Saudi Arabia.
“We are now a full part of the global economy and we cannot hide away or shy away from looking at what’s happening on the rest of the globe,” Kleist said. “That might take some compromises, but my government is willing to talk about those compromises.”
Greenland is the only Arctic nation that has an oil spill response plan, and Greenland has the co-operation of the Canadian government on the issue of protection, he said.
For example, Canada’s National Energy Board was invited to observe operations along Greenland’s west coast in 2010
But Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Cathy Towtongie said Nunavut wants to be part of the process next time.
“[Oil drilling] is inevitable in Canada’s Arctic and we need to prepare ahead of time,” she said, adding the territory is “open to development,” she said. “Inuit have to be realistic. We use a lot of energy, we have to learn how to develop it closer to home.”
And Inuit cannot be “bought out” by resource development, said Okalik Eegeesiak, president of Qikiqtani Inuit Association.
“Some people think that any kind of [resource] extraction is our future,” she said. “In Canada, we should not have the position that our social and living [conditions] will change because of oil and gas.
“It should be in spite of it.”
However, in Alaska, where some communities have grown used to collecting millions of dollars in revenues from onshore oil and gas development, the North Slope Borough is looking cautiously to the first offshore exploration in its vicinity.
“We can only conclude that energy development in our waters is probably going to happen, whether we like it or not,” said North Slope mayor Edward Itta.
The Inuit leaders summit wraps up late Feb. 24, when participants are expected to issue a common statement on resource development in the Arctic’s Inuit lands.