Executive Summary for April 1st

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including a boost for airship deliveries, controversy over offshore exploration permits in the Canadian Arctic and a new normal for winter Arctic sea ice.

Published on April 1, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Clock Ticking on Oil and Gas Leases in Canada

Oil and gas licenses in Canadian Arctic waters have come under scrutiny this week.

A strongly backed proposal to establish a national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound, at the eastern gate of the Northwest Passage, has been obstructed over offshore energy exploration permits that may not even be valid.

The federal government, Inuit hunters and land-claim groups have endorsed Lancaster Sound as the site of Canada’s third national marine conservation area. But Shell Canada has used its permits to seek authorization to conduct seismic testing in the region before deciding whether to hand the permits back, according to the Nunatsiaq News.

Now, Greenpeace has revealed that the oil permits may not even be valid. The federal government issued Shell Canada 30 permits in the 1970s. Greenpeace says that documents obtained through freedom of information requests show that the permits have not been renewed since 1978 and may have expired, the Canadian Press reported.

On the western side of the Canadian Arctic, Imperial Oil and BP had submitted a request to the National Energy Board in July 2015 to have their nine-year licenses extended to 16 years. The licenses let the companies explore for oil in the Beaufort Sea, about 175km (109 miles) from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.

According to CBC News, the companies have postponed their exploration activities due to delays in completing the regulatory work, including safety measures. The companies deposited C$445 million with the federal government, a security bond that they will lose if they don’t drill a well within the nine-year window.

Shrinking Winter Sea Ice Is the Arctic’s New Normal

It’s official. Wintertime Arctic sea ice levels have hit a new low.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported on Monday that the Arctic sea ice maximum extent was at a record low for a second year in a row. Arctic sea ice extent usually hits its maximum around mid-March. This year’s extent at 14.52 million square km (5.607 million square miles) on March 24 was a smidge below last year’s record low of 14.54 million square km (5.612 million square miles).

According to Walter Meier, a NASA Arctic sea ice scientist, it’s a trend we’ll probably continue to see, reported Grist.

The new sea ice record follows an unusually warm winter. “I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “The heat was relentless.” December, January and February air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean were 2–6C (4–11F) above average, almost throughout the Arctic.

To better understand the changing conditions in the Arctic, NASA has launched two missions, Operation IceBridge and OMG (Oceans Melting Greenland), which are measuring sea ice and glacier thickness, and testing the connections between the warming ocean and Greenland’s ice loss.

For many communities, such as Ulukhaktok, on the west coast of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories of Canada, the shrinking sea ice is affecting community hunts, CBC News reported. Residents also worry that its retreat may leave fewer spots for seals to mate. The concerns of Inuit communities have led the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to develop its first climate change adaptation strategy.

The unreliable ice is also wreaking havoc for military operations. Last week, a crack in the sea ice raced through the U.S. Navy’s Arctic ice camp and forced the evacuation of more than 40 international researchers and personnel. Navy Times reported that the operation, called Ice Camp Sargo, shut down a week early because at least two cracks had been found within the camp area or close to it. Poor ice conditions had forced the navy to evacuate its 2014 camp as well.

Floating on Northern Air

Airship advocates have said that the massive bulbous vehicles can deliver personnel and supplies to northern regions without the need for permanent roads, ice roads or the high costs associated with aviation and shipping.

Now, with the announcement from U.S.-based Lockheed Martin that it will sell 12 airships to U.K.-based Straightline Aviation, that wish may come true.

The airships could be cruising northward at speeds up to 110km per hour (about 70 miles per hour) and carrying up to 20 metric tons (22 U.S. tons) of cargo by 2018, according to the Associated Press.

They may be used in Alaska and Canada’s north by oil and gas companies to move large pieces of heavy equipment or to transport diesel.

Recommended Reading

Top image: Hybrid airships, such as these produced by Lockheed Martin, could deliver cargo to the Arctic. (PRNewsFoto/Lockheed Martin)

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