I’ve passed north of the polar circle on our trip visiting the west coast of Greenland. The temperature has dropped to minus 15 Celsius; snow is mounting outside my window and in the beautiful harbour city Sisimiut, the fjord is filled with ice. At night time, the Northern Lights are dancing in the sky to the distant howling from the town’s sledge dogs. This wolf-like dog is only allowed north of the Arctic Circle. In a few days, I will be debating oil drilling at the local college – a college that specifically focuses on minerals and petroleum.
We have spent the last couple of days in Greenland’s capital Nuuk, a visit that proved quite interesting. I’ve talked to 200 students about the dangers of oil drillings, but also on how Greenland in general can ensure a sustainable development in the future.
I’ve also had a splendid dialogue with the members of the Inatsisartut (Greenland parliament) sub-committees on environment and business about the several instances where the drillings had led to unacceptable consequences like the discharge of drill cuttings and red listed chemicals. We also discussed the undemocratic practice of denying a country’s citizens public access to the oil spill response plan - a plan Cairn so fiercely denied to make public that Greenpeace International Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, and a score of other activists felt compelled to scale the Cairn Energy oil rig last summer off the coast of Greenland.
Another interesting thing happened in the evening later the same day. The university in Nuuk had invited students and citizens to a debate about oil drilling with environmental organizations. A few people stood out from the others by their silence; scowling in the back of the room sat representatives from Maersk, Shell and Cairn. I don’t know why they were there, but I doubt it’s from their deep and sincere concern for the environment and the global climate. However, this leads me to my next point, because, why are we here?
Cairn Energy has found nothing in the two years they have been drilling of the coast of Greenland. Reuters has been reporting that Cairn may be leaving Greenland permanently. So, have we won? The answer is without any doubt: no! Cairn might be looking for a partner in crime to share the expenses. Either way, as the silent listeners at the university in Nuuk showed, other dirty oil companies are waiting behind the scenes ready to move into the Arctic.
And it is not only of the west coast of Greenland. Oil companies are eying the Northeast coast of Greenland. If irresponsible ideas could be portrayed by the size of mountains this one belongs to the Himalaya. Even an oil spill off the west coast would prove impossible to clean up for a number of reasons. Among these the lacking infrastructure and the impassable environment is an important one. These problems will be severely reinforced in the even more remote and isolated Northeastern area, as the constant sea ice and the icebergs the size of islands roams the area. However, even without an accident, drillings will have highly concerning effects on the environment.
The Danish National Environmental Research Institute has been conducting an environmental impact assessment of the northeast area. One of the concerns raised in this report is discharge of produced water that contains small amounts of oil, salts and chemicals: “Some of these chemicals are acutely toxic or radioactive, contain heavy metals, have hormone disruptive effects or acts as nutrients which influence primary production. Some are persistent and have the potential to bioaccumulate”.
Oil drilling in the Arctic continues to be an incredible gamble with the nature and the environment; it is quite simply a very bad idea. And even though our journey up along the west coast soon is coming to an end, we will keep challenging the dirty oil.
Jon Burgwald is an Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace Nordic. Read his previous blog from Greenland.
Photo by Sune Scheller / Greenpeace - The fjord next to the town Sisimiut on the Greenlandic west coast.