Greenland halts new oil drilling licences
Government reluctant to hand out new permits while exploration under existing licences will be subject to more scrutiny
The Guardian, Wednesday 27 March 2013 22.47 GMT
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Greenpeace activists climb an oil rig off the Greenland coast in 2011. The country has imposed a moratorium on drilling. Photograph: Steve Morgan/EPA
The new government in Greenland has slapped a moratorium on the granting of fresh offshore oil and gas drilling licences in the country’s Arctic waters in a move which has been welcomed by Greenpeace but will disappoint the industry.
The ban came as one of the Arctic drilling pioneers, the British company Cairn Energy, failed in a bid to keep an injunction on any protests organised against it by Greenpeace.
A coalition agreement signed by prime minister Aleqa Hammond and others inside a newly elected administration said it would be “reluctant” to hand out any new permits, while exploration under existing licences could only be done under much heavier safety scrutiny. Oil industry experts in London said that a new licensing round that would have opened up waters off the north east of Greenland would not now take place.
Jon Burgwald, Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace in Denmark, said it was good news for everyone: “Until now, the people of Greenland have been kept in the dark about the enormous risks taken by the politicians and companies in the search for Arctic oil. Now it seems that the new government will start taking these risks seriously. The logical conclusion must be a total ban on offshore oil drilling in Greenland.”
Thecoalition agreement makes clear a parliamentary body will be established to scrutinise offshore operations while promising oil spill safety plans will be made publicly available in future.
Greenland, with Alaska and Russia, has been at the forefront of oil company hopes to uncover an estimated 25% of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves lying under and around the Arctic ocean.
Early drilling operations by Cairn and Shell infuriated environmentalists worried about global warming and concerned that the pristine and icy waters of the far north could be irreparably damaged by any oil spills.
A decision by the former Greenland government and Cairn not to make public any spill response plan caused particular concern and led to Cairn’s Edinburgh headquarters being taken over briefly by protestors dressed as polar bears.
A legal injunction obtained by Cairn against Greenpeace International was lifted on Wednesday although a parallel one against Greenpeace UK, which organised the protest back in 2011, remains in place. Cairn spent $1.4bn (£1bn) drilling without commercial success off Greenland while Shell has just been forced to drop plans to drill again off Alaska this summer after it ran into a series of technical problems in the region during 2012.
Hammond’s Siumut party came to power this month following an election campaign dominated by a debate over the activities of foreign investors and concerns among the 57,000 population that Greenland’s future could be dictated by the demands of potentially polluting new industries rather than traditional Inuit fishing and hunting.