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Vol. 9, No. 34 Week of August 22, 2004
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Arctic troubles include melting ice, Mac landslide, sovereignty

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Gary Park

Petroleum News Calgary Correspondent

A melting Arctic icecap, an underwater landslide and a dispute with Denmark over northern sovereignty all put obstacles in the way of exploiting Arctic resources.

A multinational partnership of polar scientists has just launched an historic, 10-year census of marine life, with special focus on the Canada Basin, a largely unknown hole about 12,500 feet deep immediately north of the Yukon Territory and Alaska.

The $1 billion Census of Marine Life project will see biologists, geologists and physicists from several nations record and inventory biodiversity in the Arctic Ocean in a race against additional climate warming that could remove the Arctic ice cap and dramatically alter life in the region.

The mouths of Russian and Canadian rivers, which pour an estimated 2,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater annually into the ocean, will also be studied. What they find in the world’s least-known ocean will make an important contribution to International Polar Year, 2007-08, and could lend weight to arguments by environmentalists against the continued extension of oil and gas activities into more remote Arctic regions.

Slump may be melting permafrost

Meanwhile, scientists on a research icebreaker in Canada’s High Arctic reported earlier this month that, melting permafrost may be causing a massive slump on the seafloor of the Mackenzie Shelf, about 80 miles northwest of Tuktoyaktuk, on the Mackenzie Delta.

The researchers say it could cause major problems for companies with oil and gas leases in that area.

The slump, or underwater landslide, was discovered when the shelf was being surveyed with a multi-beam sonar.

David Scott, with Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, warned that if the slump completely gives way it would transfer tens of cubic kilometers of sediment to the deep sea, posing a challenge for oil and gas exploration.

He said that if there was an oil lease in the middle of the slump “you wouldn’t ever want to be drilling in something like that because you could lose part of the ocean floor pretty quickly.”

University of Quebec scientist Andre Rochon said the slump was likely caused by the thawing of permafrost and may have been going on for some time.

The researchers will return to the area in 2005 to better determine the size of the slump and how fast it is moving.

Canadian territorial claims reaffirmed

Against that background, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has reaffirmed Canada’s territorial claims over the North.

While visiting Nunavut Territory on Aug. 11 he said one of his government’s responsibilities is to “ensure that the sovereignty of the land is going to be there for generations of Inuit and Canadians to come.”

To that end, Martin said he was “concerned about those who would challenge our sovereignty of the Arctic.”

He took his stand as 200 sailors on a Canadian frigate and 160 land troops were being deployed in an area where Denmark placed its flag last year on Hans Island, midway between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and the Danish colony of Greenland.

Martin praised a group of Arctic Rangers “who are the very forefront of the protection of our sovereignty.”



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