The necessity of eliminating arctic access

By Michael Agnello

(Tom Doyle/Flickr)
(Tom Doyle/Flickr)

Underneath the arctic ice allegedly lies, per National Geographic, “an estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil.” The potential financial gain from drilling for this oil is understandably tempting, but leaving those fossil fuels in the ground, as crazy as that may seem, is critical for preserving the arctic and subsequently the Earth from further deterioration.

In December, 196 countries met in Paris to reach a new agreement on climate change, yet the arctic was not included in the negotiations – a flaw in the otherwise productive meeting. The arctic is a hypersensitive region, and as it changes each year with seasonal temperature spikes, notable global problems worsen such as more severe and frequent storms.

It is important to note that without significant climate change in part due to burning mass quantities of fossil fuels, access to the arctic would not be possible. According to NASA, seasonal ice patterns are becoming increasingly smaller and sheets of ice that remained frozen for hundreds of years are breaking up, allowing bordering countries to explore deeper into previously unreachable waters. If there is no preservation it is not unlikely that the arctic would “become essentially ice free in [the] summer before mid-century.”

Environmentally, having an iceless arctic could lead to more moisture in the atmosphere and more waves in the Arctic Ocean, both of which can have lasting consequences. Ice serves the dual roles of insulator for moisture, essentially limiting the atmospheric intake of it, and as a deterrent for large waves. Commercializing the region would basically speed up the deterioration process.

If companies are granted drilling permits, the arctic will experience more shipping activity, which would interfere with ice formation. In the long term, burning more fossil fuels could contribute to more carbon emissions, making it difficult for future ice formation as seasonal temperatures would continue to be affected.

These factors would equate to greater frequency of severe storms that would then pose problems for coastal erosion in Northern communities. Article 8 of the Paris agreement states, “Parties [should] recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” Therefore, it is perplexing to think arctic drilling is an option for countries, considering that the consequences would violate the agreement.

When discussing oil drilling, it is impossible to avoid addressing the possibility of a spill. The region is a relatively recent point of interest and as a result there is not definitive knowledge about how to clean oil from an arctic ecosystem. The temperature in the arctic increases the chance that after a spill, crude material would freeze and then remain in the ecosystem longer than in temperate and tropical waters.

Furthermore, the Arctic’s remoteness would cause human response to be delayed in the case of a disaster. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard’s lead science advisor for oil spill response operations, even notes on their website that “vessels transiting the Arctic have little or no emergency response infrastructure for support”.

Without immediate support, affected endangered species such as polar bears, bowhead whales, and ringed seals’ survival would be jeopardized.

The associated risks that come with arctic drilling far outweigh the monetary gains. Countries who signed the new climate agreement in Paris should focus their efforts to ensure one of the last pristine places on Earth does not become destroyed for the sake of nonrenewable energy sources. Although drilling has occurred in the arctic before, eliminating future operations would help avert greater environmental destruction via more severe weather patterns, coastal erosion and new threats for endangered species.

And if there is not an ability to drill, the sanction could further motivate countries to invest in renewable energy. Countries that have the ability to grant drilling permits in the arctic would have to acknowledge that finding new, sustainable resources is a necessity, influencing a decrease in the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.


Michael Agnello is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]