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Vol. 16, No. 10 Week of March 06, 2011
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Inuit seek Arctic pact

Leaders from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia make progress toward declaration

Gary Park

For Petroleum News

Inuit leaders from four Arctic jurisdictions plan to issue guidelines this spring laying out their terms for “responsible” development of mining, drilling and other offshore activity on their lands.

But, having failed to achieve a unified position at a two-day Inuit Circumpolar Council summit in Ottawa, they plan to continue their negotiations based on the guidelines.

Aqqaluk Lynge, the council’s international chair, said he is confident a declaration will be finalized before the Arctic Council — an inter-governmental forum representing eight Arctic nations — holds a ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, in May.

He said the Inuit “want influence (and) want to make sure that past mistakes are not repeated.”

The leaders, from Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia, agreed on a number of principles they want to see incorporated in a declaration, such as:

• Priority for the Inuit to benefit from mining or offshore activities in their regions;

• Ensuring companies respect the rights of Inuit and other indigenous people;

• Balancing the risks and benefits of development and making sure such development is sustainable; and

• Establishing an international fund to deal with any liability and compensation for oil spills and other polluting acts in Arctic waters.

More opportunities

“We want to create opportunities for our people in terms of jobs, not just menial jobs like being a janitor or a kitchen helper,” said Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in Canada.

Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist said it is time for his Inuit people, who can no longer depend solely on hunting and fishing, to benefit as much as outside companies from resource development.

He said the oil and gas industry is “safer today than it has ever been. There is a risk, of course. But we want to gain from that kind of activity.”

However, Inuit in Canada’s Nunavut Territory are concerned about Greenland’s push for oil and gas exploration in Davis Strait, the waterway between Greenland and Nunavut, arguing that the Gulf of Mexico blowout last summer should serve as a clear warning.

But Kleist noted that Nunavut Tunngavik, the Inuit land-claim organization in Nunavut, supports uranium mining, for which Greenland has “zero tolerance.”

Simon said such disagreements need to be brought into the open in an attempt to decide how they will be handled.

Kleist said unrest in the Middle East makes Greenland’s potential oil riches — estimated by some at 20 billion barrels — more important than ever.

Ove Karl Berthelson, Greenland’s industry and mineral resources minister, said exploration licenses for blocks in the Greenland Sea will be auctioned in 2012 and 2013.

Currently, 20 licenses in Baffin Bay on Greenland’s west coast are held by U.S.-based ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, Canada’s Encana, Norway’s Statoil, France’s GDF Suez, Britain’s Cairn Energy and Royal Dutch Shell, Denmark’s Maersk and DONG Energy and Greenland’s national oil company Nunaoil.

Kleist said there is no turning back, despite concerns that Baffin Bay is vulnerable to spills.

Canadians want sovereignty

A new international survey of Arctic issues, conducted by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and involving 9,000 responses from eight northern nations, found that 40 percent of Canadians from all regions expect their government to “pursue a firm line in defending” those Arctic sections considered to be part of Canadian territory.

A similar percentage said it was “better to negotiate a compromise with other countries” and only 8 percent said the Arctic should be governed as “an international territory like Antarctica.”

Respondents from Iceland (36 percent) and Russia (34 percent) were closest to Canada’s “firm line” stance.

In the United States, 10 percent endorsed a firm line, 30 percent favored compromise and 25 percent supported an Antarctica-like jurisdiction.

Munk School director Janice Stein said the “unprecedented research” shows that Canadians are unified on the Arctic and want their government to “assert its sovereignty” over the region.

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