Wikileaks revelations show interest of Canada, others in Arctic “carve-up” for oil

Feature story - May 12, 2011
Toronto — New Wikileaks revelations today show that, even though climate change is causing a speeded up melting of sea ice, Canada and other Arctic nations want to speed up the development of oil and gas resources.

Greenpeace activists took direct action in April to stop the oil drilling rig Leiv Eiriksson in the Mediterranean to protect the pristine Arctic environment from oil exploration . The rig is to drill for wildcat oil company Cairn Energy, which has received licences from to drill for oil off Disko Island.

The cables released today by Wikileaks also show how the scramble for resources in the Arctic is sparking military tension in the region – with NATO sources worried about the potential for armed conflict between the alliance and Russia.


Leaked U.S. cables show that Canada is concerned about claims from the U.S. for more access to Arctic seabed resources. The cables also show that during Canada’s federal election in 2008, the U.S. delayed issuing a presidential directive that “the United States assert a more active and influential national presence to protect its Arctic interests” in order not to influence election results.

"The Arctic acts as a global climate control valve, so what happens there affects the entire planet," said Yossi Cadan, Greenpeace Canada campaigns director. "Prime Minister Harper should recognize that the melting of the ice is an urgent warning to act on climate change rather than as open season for the oil companies to rush in to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place."

The release of previously unpublished US embassy cables also shows the extent to which Russia is manoeuvring to claim ownership over huge swathes of the Arctic, with one senior Moscow source revealing that a Russian explorer’s famous submarine expedition to plant a flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole was ordered by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

One cable details the lengths to which the U.S. is going to carve out a strong position in Greenland, and the concerns Washington has over Chinese maneuvering on the Danish autonomous island. The dispatch states: “Our intensified outreach to the Greenlanders will encourage them to resist any false choice between the United States and Europe.  It will also strengthen our relationship with Greenland vis-a-vis the Chinese, who have shown increasing interest in Greenland's natural resource.”

Other revelations also expose tensions within NATO, as Canadian leaders privately express disquiet over the alliance’s mooted plans to project military force in the Arctic in the face of perceived Russian aggression. Harper is quoted by diplomats as saying that a NATO presence in the region would give non-Arctic members of the Western alliance too much influence in an area where “they don’t belong”.

The Norwegian foreign minister relates privately how, during his March 2009 visit to Moscow, he sarcastically thanked his Russian counterpart Lavrov “for making it so much easier to justify the Joint Strike Fighter purchase to the Norwegian public, given Russia's regular military flights up and down Norway's coast.”

In another cable U.S. diplomats refer to “the potential of increased military threats in the Arctic.” A further U.S. diplomatic dispatch states that “behind Russia's (Arctic) policy are two potential benefits accruing from global warming:  the prospect for an (even seasonally) ice-free shipping route from Europe to Asia, and the estimated oil and gas wealth hidden beneath the Arctic sea floor.”

Senior politicians from the Arctic nations – including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and re-elected federal cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq - are meeting this week at the Arctic Council meeting in Greenland to discuss issues including oil exploration and climate change.

In one cable the then Danish foreign minister Moeller discusses delays in US ratification of a key maritime convention. "If you stay out,” Moeller is quoted as privately telling the Americans, “then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic."

“The interest in carving up the Arctic shows how serious the thirst to exploit resources is,” said Cadan of Greenpeace Canada. “The future of the Arctic should not be decided by an "exclusive club" of Arctic nations whose only interest is resource extraction and territorial ambitions. Indigenous peoples in the Arctic are being left out of discussions that are crucial to their future.”

In another cable the extent to which the United States sees Greenland as the site of significant U.S. commercial interests is revealed – with American diplomats calling for the establishment of a bigger US presence on the island before boasting about introducing Greenland’s two most powerful politicians to “top U.S. financial institutions in New York”. Another cable quotes Danish foreign minister Moeller’s opinion that “new shipping routes and natural resource discoveries would eventually place the region at the center of world politics.” The head of the Russian navy is quoted as saying “one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention.”

Greenpeace oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe reacting to the release of the new cables, said:

“As so often before, this new military build-up is all about oil. We need our political leaders to make a final push to get us off oil by investing in the clean, cutting-edge technologies that can power our economies without destroying the environment or sparking tension amid the icebergs and glaciers of the High North. Rather than pumping oil out of the Arctic, we should be extracting it from our car engines by passing stronger vehicle efficiency laws.”

This week the government of Greenland awarded licences to Cairn Energy to drill for oil off Disko Island. The approval of the permits means that this year oil drilling off the pristine Greenland coast will happen further north, at greater depths and deeper into the winter months than ever before.

Wikileaks website

Cables on Canada:

Key highlights from cables