Whether it’s offshore oil and gas development, skyrocketing fuel costs in rural communities or the development of renewable energy sources, it seems that there’s no shortage of issues that relate to the production or use of energy in the Arctic.
What government policies are needed to address these issues? How do the issues relate to each other? What new energy-related technologies are needed in the Arctic? How can the needs of Arctic communities be met?
These are some of the questions that a new international group known as the Arctic Energy Action Team hopes to address, Jim Hemsath, senior fellow of the Energy Institute of the North, told the closing session of the Arctic Energy Summit Technical Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, Oct. 18. Initiated during the conference, the team plans to follow up on several of the issues raised during the conference.
“We’ve defined the Arctic Energy Team as an international group of policy makers and energy experts convened here at this technology conference to go forward with some of the discussions that we’ve had, with a specific goal of developing a roadmap for the enhancement of extractive and renewable energy recovery and the deployment of economical and environmentally sensitive energy sources for our rural Arctic communities,” Hemsath said.
Challenges to addressThe first step will be the formation of an executive team to help nail down the specific Arctic energy challenges that the team as a whole will address over a period of about 14 months, leading to the delivery in the first quarter of 2009 of recommendations to the International Polar Year Convening Committee and the Arctic Council, Hemsath said.
The International Polar Year, a major Arctic and Antarctic science research initiative, ends in March 2009 (the Arctic Energy Summit forms part of IPY). The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum for addressing common concerns and challenges faced by the Arctic countries, consisting of Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States.
The executive team will pick a specific major challenge from each of three areas: extractive energy, renewable energy and rural energy, Hemsath said. The team will then investigate each challenge within the context of eight issues that relate to Arctic energy. Those issues consist of government policies; human resource development; rural energy; shipping and transportation; environmental concerns; the energy infrastructure; the impact of climate change on people in the area; and energy security.
It’s not possible to adequately address any Arctic energy challenge, without taking into account those eight issues, Hemsath said.
For example, the development of Arctic coal might make a good challenge to tackle in the area of energy extraction. That would raise questions such as what technologies to use for extracting energy from coal, what infrastructure would be needed on the ground, what transportation infrastructure would be required and what the environmental impacts might be.
“Environmental and cultural impacts, while they can’t be assigned a monetary value, must be considered and must be articulated in any project that takes place,” Hemsath said. “Energy development causes abrupt changes, not small, not incremental … to the surrounding communities.”
And any technical development would require ground rules set by government policy.
Scenarios and roadmapAt the end of the 14-month project the team will present a series of scenarios for each of the energy challenges considered, Hemsath said. For those scenarios, the team will present a roadmap for research and technology development. And the team will present some government policy case studies, to illustrate the potential consequences of different policy decisions. The team will identify critical points in the roadmap where, for example, technologies need to change. The team will also identify critical interfaces, such as any interfaces needed between the administrations of different Arctic counties.
The emphasis will be on action rather than study, with a focus on things that can be achieved in 20 years or less, Hemsath said. In effect, the team will deliver to the Arctic Council a strategic Arctic business plan for the next 10, 15 or 20 years, he said.
Hemsath thinks that the Arctic Energy Action Team can make a difference to dealing with Arctic energy issues and in facilitating international trans-polar cooperation.
“This is our opportunity to do something bold and do something different. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be tough,” Hemsath said. “… We have the opportunity to make a step function change in how the Arctic is viewed and create a new energy vision of the north for the people of the north.”