This House would cease the exploitation of the Arctic Region

Perhaps ironically, one of the effects of climate change has been to open up new areas of the polar caps – previously unreachable –for use by human beings, including for mineral extraction. The political situation in the Arctic Ocean gives added bite to the situation, with several countries making claims to the arctic ocean and so its sea bed with attendant mineral wealth.  

The relationship between preservation and development is always a difficult one. There are various balances in play – between modern jobs and cultural heritage, between energy needs and environmental protection, between the possible needs of future generations and the all too pressing interests of the current one.

Although much of the noise in this area has been generated in relation to US plans in Alaska, the interests of other nations with Arctic territory - Russia, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland - are also likely to dominate the issue for decades to come. All these states, plus representatives of six indigenous populations are members of the Artic Council, which has de facto governance responsibility for the region – although the territorial claims of the nation states end at the 200km limit of sovereignty as would be the case with the demarcation of other maritime territories. Norway, Russia, Canada and Denmark have all made claims to extend their territorial claims beyond that limit, as is allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea when the continental shelf extends beyond this limit. Russia even went as far as to plant a flag on the seabed in 2007.[1]

The primary resources available through arctic exploration are oil, gas, minerals, fresh water (1/5 of the world’s water supply) and fish. But there is also interest in opening up new shipping routes through the region which would reduce travel times from East Asia to Europe and North America’s Atlantic Seaboard. The region also has enormous biodiversity, especially in terms of genotypes that are unique to the habitat.

The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the total volume of sea ice has reduced in the last 30 years.[2] However, commentators of varying degrees of credibility have put forward a wide range of explanations for the change. It is important not to conflate two different debates when discussing this topic. At one level – the interest of this debate – there is the issue of how to manage the Arctic itself. The issue of the wider implications of climate change, including the impact of arctic warming on salinity and temperature in the world’s oceans, whilst interesting, are a separate issue.

Although there are various definitions of what constitutes the Arctic – many of them including sub-arctic, sparsely populated forest and tundra – for the purposes of this debate it is that area north of the Arctic Circle (66° 33'N). The total size of this area is 40,000,000 km2 (15,000,000 sq mi) and covers 8% of the Earth.[3]

By ‘exploitation’ this motion will be considered to primarily refer to exploration and drilling for mineral resources. A secondary issue is the shipping opportunities and the transportation of these resources, It’s worth noting that increased opportunities for tourism has also caused some concern but the main focus of the global discussion on this issue as related to the exploitation of resources. Primarily the focus is on oil and gas rather than the considerably smaller reserves of other resources. The issue of the ownership of fishing rights is also important but will not be touched on here as it has received far less coverage and comment in the current climate.

The various attempts that have been made so far to extend the claims of Arctic nations to greater parts of the sea bed and ocean, as well as efforts to rapidly increase drilling within domestic territory, has led many – environmentalists and others – to suggest that a treaty is needed to protect the whole of the Arctic. This could be modelled on the Antarctic Treaty which freezes territorial claims and bans any military activity in the region; this would not affect current territory but would prevent any militarisation of the Arctic Ocean. It would add to this an equivalent of the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities which does not entirely ban extraction but prevents such activity until it is judged that there would be no adverse environmental impact.[4]

[1] Lovett, Richard A., ‘Russia Plants Underwater Flag, Claims Arctic Seafloor’, National Geographic News, 3 August 2007, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070802-russia-pole.html

[2] For example see this graph based on the research of the Polar Science Center based at the University of Washington. ‘Plot arctic sea ice volume’, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plot_arctic_sea_ice_volume.svg, accessed 21 June 2013

[3] Marsh W. M. and Kaufman M. M., Physical Geography and Global Ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, 30 April 2012, http://books.google.ca/books?id=uF3aJSC20yMC

[4] States Party to the Antarctic Treaty, ‘Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities’, Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI), 2 June 2988, http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/entri/texts/acrc/cramra.txt.html

 

Title 
The Arctic should be saved for future generations
Point 

As we are using the resources of so much of the planet we should think about our legacy to future generations and leave the resources of the arctic to future generations. There are several reasons why we should do so.

First of all drilling in the arctic means drilling in some of the harshest conditions on earth; with many of the projects being set up it means drilling in deep areas of the ocean that were inaccessible only a couple of decades ago. It also means drilling in freezing conditions while being potentially vulnerable to icebergs. Disasters like the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico have shown that oil companies are not prepared for oil disasters in deep water and repair would be more difficult a long way from civilization.[1]

While the technology for this does not yet exist in future it probably will. It makes sense that we should leave such hard to reach resources until it is possible to extract it easily and safely. In the mean time we should be focusing our efforts on easier to reach resources and on developing alternatives. Such a policy will be beneficial to future generations both through making a greener economy and by leaving an emergency reserve of fossil fuel that can be used if necessary.

[1] Lawless, Jill, ‘Tony Hayward: BP Was Unprepared For Gulf Oil Spill, 'We Were Making It Up Day To Day'’, HuffPost, 9 November 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/09/tony-hayward-bp-was-unpre_n_780814.html

Counterpoint 

This is oil and gas that we already know about and already have the expertise to exploit. The technology that we don’t yet have will only be developed if there is a demand for them – if the demand is now the technology will be developed. There is little point in us leaving this particular fuel to future generations when we are the first generation that has the technology to exploit such deposits. Future generations may improve on the technology and make it safer but the fundamental capability, the breakthroughs that make it possible have already happened. Future generations on the other hand will have their own breakthroughs in terms of new forms of power and new discoveries of fuels. They are then much less likely to need these resources than we do now. 

Title 
The Arctic is a diverse but fragile ecosystem
Point 

Mineral extraction is not a clean process[1] and the Arctic is acknowledged as a fragile ecosystem.  In addition to the pollution that using these fuels will cause elsewhere in the world, the process of extraction itself is fraught with risks. There is some destruction caused simply by the process of building and running rigs with everything running normally, but the nightmare scenario is a major spill.[2] Let’s be clear, with the best will in the world, there will be a spill; difficult and unpredictable conditions, gruelling tests for both the machinery and the engineers that manage it, and a track record that leaves a lot to be desired in far more habitable and accessible environments. There are two difficulties posed in terms of an off-shore (or below-ice in this case) spill. The first problem is that stopping the spill would be vastly more complicated logistically than anything previously attempted, making previous deep-sea containment exercises seem simple by comparison.[3]

The Exxon Valdez disaster showed the large scale damage that oil spills near the poles can have large and long lasting effects on the ecosystem; hundreds of thousands of seabirds were killed in the spill and it is estimates some habitats will take 30 years to recover.[4] Any such disaster is made much worse above the arctic circle because of the cold. Oil degrades faster in warmer waters because the metabolism of microbes that break the oil down works much more slowly in the cold arctic waters, at the same time the oil spreads out less so provides less surface area.[5] In 2010 it was reported that more than two decades after the spill there were still 23,000 gallons of relatively un-weathered oil in Prince William Sound.[6]

The second issue, as demonstrated by large scale experimentation in the 1970s is that the oil would interact with the Polar ice to affect a far larger area than would normally be the case.

At the very least, it seems sensible to have a moratorium on sub-glacial drilling until the technology is available to deal safely and securely with a spill.

[1] Bibby, N. Is Norman Baker Serious about Saving the Environment? Liberalconspiracy.org. 18 march 2012. http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/03/18/is-norman-baker-mp-serious-about-saving-the-environment/

[2] McCarthy, Michael, The Independent. Oil exploration under the arctic could cause ‘uncontrollable’ natural disaster. 6 September 201 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/oil-exploration-under-arctic-ice-could-cause-uncontrollable-natural-disaster-2349788.html

[3] Vidal, John, ‘Why an oil spill in Arctic waters would be devastating’, The Guardian, 22 April 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/22/oil-spill-arctic-analysis

[4] Williamson, David, ‘Exxon Valdez oil spill impacts lasting far longer than expected, scientists say’, UNC News Services, 18 December 2003, no.648, http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/dec03/peters121803.html

[5] Atlas, Ronald M., et al., ‘Microbes & Oil Spills – FAQ’, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 22 April 2013, http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/publications/microbes/index-eng.html

[6] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ‘Intent to Prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s Restoration Efforts’, Federal Register, Vol.75., No. 14, 22 January 2010, p.3707 http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/notice/75fr3706.pdf

Counterpoint 

The Arctic covers a huge area, of course there are some parts that should be protected. Just as with any other area in the world, areas of special scientific or environmental significance should be protected. However, just picking a line on the map and saying ‘no drilling north of here’ makes little sense. Why not a degree further south – or north? Protection should be awarded on a site by site basis, just as it would be anywhere else in the world.

Title 
A treaty similar to the Antarctic Treaty would prevent competition
Point 

The opening up of the arctic Ocean through climate change also opens up territorial claims as where there are resources at stake states are keen to make a claim so as to exploit them. For example in 2008 Russia’s then President Medvedev stated “Our first and fundamental task is to turn the Arctic into a resource base for Russia in the 21st century.”[1] Such competition for resources can lead to conflict as is increasingly being shown in the East and South China Seas.

The Antarctic Treaty however freezes these territorial claims, as would our proposed treaty. It also bans military activity so preventing any completion from getting out of hand.[2] The proposal would also ban the exploitation of the Arctic’s resources so reducing the cause of any conflict.  

[1] Keating, Joshua, ‘Medvedev makes a play for Arctic riches’, Passport Foreign Policy, 17 September 2008, http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2008/09/17/medvedev_makes_a_play_for_arctic_riches

[2] ‘The Antarctic Treaty’, Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty, 2011, http://www.ats.aq/e/ats.htm

Counterpoint 

There is no reason to believe that a warming arctic will be a more competitive arctic or that the littoral powers will not be able to share the resources the region provides. Norway and Russia managed to fix their maritime borders in the Barents sea in order to exploit the potential resources there.[1] There being resources to exploit can just as often provide a motivation cooperate because if this does not happen then no one can exploit the resources.

[1] Brigham, Lawson W., ‘Think Again: The Arctic’, Foreign Policy, Sept/oct 2010, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/16/think_again_the_arctic

Title 
There is a growing demand for mineral resources
Point 

Improving the lives of its citizens is one of the most important roles of the state. And in terms of improving lives economic growth is usually considered the most important economic goal.[1] And in order to grow cheap fuel is needed. Nuclear energy is still precarious, and expensive, and renewable technologies cannot come close to meeting the existing needs of the west, let alone those of Russia, China, Brazil, India and the rest.

We are confronted with a stark reality – either use new sources of oil and gas while investing in replacement technologies or see a collapse in standards of living and life expectancy around the world.

There is much to be said for less carbon-based economies but we don’t have one yet. Until that option is available, the lights need to be kept on. The area north of the Arctic Circle is thought to contain as much as 160 billion barrels of oil, more than a quarter of the world's undiscovered reserves.[2]

There are costs to exploiting those reserves – some of them environmental – but they pale into insignificance compared with the collapse of the global economy that would result from the projected increases in global oil and gas costs.

[1] ‘53% Say Economic Growth More Important Than Economic Fairness’, Rasmussen Reports, 21 January 2013, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/business/general_business/january_2013/53_say_economic_growth_more_important_than_economic_fairness

[2] Nakhle, Carole and Shamsutdinova, Inga. Arctic Oil and Gas Resources: Evaluating Investment Opportunities. Oil, Gas & Energy Law Intelligence, vol.10 issue 2, February 2012, http://www.academia.edu/1461205/Arctic_Oil_and_Gas_Resources_Evaluating_Investment_Opportunities

Counterpoint 

The obvious response to ‘growing demand’ being a problem would seem to be to reduce demand. When this has been attempted by states, there have been complaints that this was an unfair burden on business. Once the market adjusted, by increasing price, the same people demanded the right to increase supply. There is not particularly a growing demand for mineral resources; there’s a growing demand for energy and transport, it’s time to get serious about new, cleaner ways of meeting that demand. It has to be remembered that oil and gas from the arctic is not cheap; oil projects in the region cost billions before they even begin extracting. It is also questionable whether there really is 160 billion barrels of oil – it has not been explored so we do not know how much is there. To take an example of just such an uncertainty in a much less extreme environment China claims the South China Sea has up to 200 billion barrels of oil[1]while the US Energy Information Administration thinks it is between 5-22 billion barrels.[2]

[1] Rogers, Will, ‘Beijing’s South China Sea Gamble’, The Diplomat, 4 February 2012, http://thediplomat.com/2012/02/04/beijings-south-china-sea-gamble/

[2] ‘South China Sea’, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 7 February 2013, http://www.eia.gov/countries/regions-topics.cfm?fips=SCS

Title 
Creating jobs and opportunities
Point 

The areas covered are among the least developed in the world. Standards of education and income for indigenous peoples are very low and, to date, there has been little to motivate any nation to do anything about that. For example Canada is rated the 6th in the world by the UN’s Human Development Index but if the same index was rating Canada’s First Nations it would be 76th.[1]

However, oil companies have already invested billions into exploration and the future nor these areas – as well as employees with existing skills in mineral extraction could be protected and enhanced by the opportunities offered by these new areas for development.

With those directly created and saved jobs come, literally, millions of others in transportation, distribution, energy supply and manufacturing and other sectors that depend on affordable energy costs. First nations in those areas that have oil booms have considerably better employment prospects; in Canada nationally natives aged 25-54 have an employment rate of 70.1% but in Alberta, the biggest oil producing region, the rate was 77.7%.[2]

Proposition rightly notes that pressures are growing on these industry sectors but fails to offer any solution that would ensure the livelihoods of millions of people around the world as well as revitalising some of the most dispossessed communities on the planet.

[1] Silversides, Ann, ‘The North “like Darfur”’, CMAJ : Canadian Medical; Association Journal, 177(9): pp.1013-1014, 23 October 2007, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2025628/

[2] The Vancouver Sun, ‘Alberta first nations benefit from oil boom’, Canada.com, 16 December 2008, http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=c37b4765-302e-45a2-a295-f22ed80c243d

Counterpoint 

To start with, let’s not believe the line that local communities see this as an unadulterated good – they have very real concerns about the impact on their qualities of life.[1] It’s also untrue that workers elsewhere in the world see this as purely beneficial; many of these workers live with the toxic results of drilling and refining oils and they have expressed their concerns about the health effects.[2] Yes there is increased infrastructure but much of it is not of the sort that benefits communities, like oil pipelines. The one group for whom there is unalloyed joy at this prospect is a small one that comprises the owners and executives of oil companies. If opposition wants to make the case that some people want to keep the money flowing, fine. But at least be honest about who those people are.

[1] Macalister, Terry, ‘Arctic resource wealth poses dilemma for indigenous communities’, The Guardian, 4 July 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/04/arctic-resources-indigenous-communities

[2] Sturgis, Sue, ‘Pollution from oil refinery accidents on the rise in Louisiana.’, Southernstudies.org, 3 December 2012, http://www.southernstudies.org/2012/12/pollution-from-oil-refinery-accidents-on-the-rise-in-louisiana.html   

Title 
Relieving areas of conflict such as the Middle East
Point 

Currently the main supplies of oil and gas are from the Middle East with more coming from Africa and in the western hemisphere from Venezuela. These oil producers include many unstable regimes; many of them engaged in appalling human rights abuses against their own citizens. This is because regimes with such natural resources buy off their people meaning there is little accountability.[1] In addition to the obvious ethical issues that are created by continuing to fund brutal regimes that happen to be sitting on billions of barrels of crude, it’s also economically risky to be so much in the pocket of such regimes.

Securing energy security has long been an ambition for much of the West.  The Carter Doctrine of 1980 “an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States,” was a direct response to the oil shocks of the previous decade.[2] In Canada, the USDA and the Nordic states, the possibility of secure energy is made a reality by the Arctic.

By removing the world’s dependency on regimes such as Saudi Arabia, there is much greater room for manoeuvre when it comes to challenging those regimes records. It would also allow the west in particular to tie themselves to the interests of the peoples of the Middle East rather than to those of their rulers.

[1] Chatelus, Michel, and Scehmeil, Yves, ‘Towards a New Political Economy of State Industrialisation in the Arab Middle East’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2 (May, 1984), pp.251-265, pp.261-262

[2] Bacevich, Andrew J., ‘The Carter Doctrine at 30’, World Affairs, 1 April 2010, http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/andrew-j-bacevich/carter-doctrine-30

Counterpoint 

There is noticeable absence in the list of countries set to replace the Middle East; That absence is Russia. It is hard to see how being subservient to Putin – with nuclear weapons and a massive military – is preferable to going cap in hand to the House of Saud. It is also unclear that this will be a benefit in terms of security and conflict. These countries are so dependent on oil that undermining their economies in this way could lead to more, not less conflict.  

Bibliography 

Atlas, Ronald M., et al., ‘Microbes & Oil Spills – FAQ’, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 22 April 2013, http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/publications/microbes/index-eng.html

Bacevich, Andrew J., ‘The Carter Doctrine at 30’, World Affairs, 1 April 2010, http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/andrew-j-bacevich/carter-doctrine-30

Bibby, N. Is Norman Baker Serious about Saving the Environment? Liberalconspiracy.org. 18 march 2012. http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/03/18/is-norman-baker-mp-serious-about-saving-the-environment/

Brigham, Lawson W., ‘Think Again: The Arctic’, Foreign Policy, Sept/oct 2010, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/16/think_again_the_arctic

Chatelus, Michel, and Scehmeil, Yves, ‘Towards a New Political Economy of State Industrialisation in the Arab Middle East’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2 (May, 1984), pp.251-265, pp.261-262

Keating, Joshua, ‘Medvedev makes a play for Arctic riches’, Passport Foreign Policy, 17 September 2008, http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2008/09/17/medvedev_makes_a_play_for_arctic_riches

Lawless, Jill, ‘Tony Hayward: BP Was Unprepared For Gulf Oil Spill, 'We Were Making It Up Day To Day'’, HuffPost, 9 November 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/09/tony-hayward-bp-was-unpre_n_780814.html

Lovett, Richard A., ‘Russia Plants Underwater Flag, Claims Arctic Seafloor’, National Geographic News, 3 August 2007, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070802-russia-pole.html

Marsh W. M. and Kaufman M. M., Physical Geography and Global Ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, 30 April 2012, http://books.google.ca/books?id=uF3aJSC20yMC

Macalister, Terry, ‘Arctic resource wealth poses dilemma for indigenous communities’, The Guardian, 4 July 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/04/arctic-resources-indigenous-communities

McCarthy, Michael, The Independent. Oil exploration under the arctic could cause ‘uncontrollable’ natural disaster. 6 September 201 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/oil-exploration-under-arctic-ice-could-cause-uncontrollable-natural-disaster-2349788.html

Nakhle, Carole and Shamsutdinova, Inga. Arctic Oil and Gas Resources: Evaluating Investment Opportunities. Oil, Gas & Energy Law Intelligence, vol.10 issue 2, February 2012, http://www.academia.edu/1461205/Arctic_Oil_and_Gas_Resources_Evaluating_Investment_Opportunities

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ‘Intent to Prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s Restoration Efforts’, Federal Register, Vol.75., No. 14, 22 January 2010, p.3707 http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/notice/75fr3706.pdf

‘53% Say Economic Growth More Important Than Economic Fairness’, Rasmussen Reports, 21 January 2013, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/business/general_business/january_2013/53_say_economic_growth_more_important_than_economic_fairness

Rogers, Will, ‘Beijing’s South China Sea Gamble’, The Diplomat, 4 February 2012, http://thediplomat.com/2012/02/04/beijings-south-china-sea-gamble/

‘The Antarctic Treaty’, Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty, 2011, http://www.ats.aq/e/ats.htm

Silversides, Ann, ‘The North “like Darfur”’, CMAJ : Canadian Medical; Association Journal, 177(9): pp.1013-1014, 23 October 2007, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2025628/

States Party to the Antarctic Treaty, ‘Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities’, Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI), 2 June 2988, http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/entri/texts/acrc/cramra.txt.html

Sturgis, Sue, ‘Pollution from oil refinery accidents on the rise in Louisiana.’, Southernstudies.org, 3 December 2012, http://www.southernstudies.org/2012/12/pollution-from-oil-refinery-accidents-on-the-rise-in-louisiana.html   

The Vancouver Sun, ‘Alberta first nations benefit from oil boom’, Canada.com, 16 December 2008, http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=c37b4765-302e-45a2-a295-f22ed80c243d

‘South China Sea’, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 7 February 2013, http://www.eia.gov/countries/regions-topics.cfm?fips=SCS

Vidal, John, ‘Why an oil spill in Arctic waters would be devastating’, The Guardian, 22 April 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/22/oil-spill-arctic-analysis

‘Plot arctic sea ice volume’, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plot_arctic_sea_ice_volume.svg, accessed 21 June 2013

Williamson, David, ‘Exxon Valdez oil spill impacts lasting far longer than expected, scientists say’, UNC News Services, 18 December 2003, no.648, http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/dec03/peters121803.html

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