[ST. JOHN'S, NL] – An international Arctic Panel covered a wide range of issues relating to natural resources in the north, during a morning session at the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association (NOIA) conference in St. John's Wednesday.
Across the board, the expert panel recommended investments in key infrastructure, greater international co-operation and less political rhetoric in order to encourage Northern industrial advancement.
The panel included: Charles Emmerson, senior research fellow at the United Kingdom's Chatham House; Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in global politics and international law; Alexander Shestakov, director of WWF's global arctic program; and Bente Nyland, director general of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.
While oil and gas development in the Arctic was touched on, use of the Northwest Passage as a supply and service route to and from Asia was also part of the discussion.
Byers says he expects Labrador's iron ore producers are already looking at the route.
In that sense, all panel members noted "resources in the Arctic" encompasses far more than oil and gas prospects. Iron ore, diamonds, gold, fisheries and, in particular, the potential for cross-continent shipping were all noted as examples of new business that can be accessed with agreements, co-operation and appropriate infrastructure.
Byers says he has sailed the Northwest Passage four times in the last five years. The last two runs, he did not see much ice.
He went on to outline a list of promises he said were made by government in the 1980s that, if they had been fulfilled, would have Canada as a leader in the Arctic today — as the passage opens and Arctic technology improves. On his list were deepwater ports, roads to the north, a greater search and rescue presence and an increased graduation rate among Inuit youth, to rapidly grow the northern workforce.
Federal and provincial commitments to northern assets have been made more recently. Northern roads in Manitoba or the Plan Nord in Quebec are examples.
Overall, it was agreed a bag of geological, technical, environmental and regulatory issues await any company moving forward with a true Arctic development.
On the environmental front, Shestakov told NOIA delegates oil companies must consider the Arctic darkness, ice conditions and unique ecosystems with little environmental baseline data.
To top it off, "We are in a completely different era of societal perception of risk," Shestakov says. "Learning by doing doesn't work in the Arctic."
"The Arctic is not just a unique environment in terms of its environmental factors, it is a very complex risk environment," Emmerson says. "I want to stress this point. This is not a business as usual environment."
To that end, moving Canada's Arctic development forward will require co-operation between credible companies and the sharing of best practices internationally, the panel says.
As for the political conflict, Byers noted the majority of known potential Arctic oil reserves sit within the 200 nautical mile limit of individual countries — inside their exclusive economic zone.
When it comes to the north, he says, "We have to tone down the belligerent rhetoric and start selling co-operation as something in the national interest."