Executive Summary for June 10th

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including oil companies leaving Arctic waters and new details about Greenland’s 2015 melt.

Published on June 10, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Shell Bows Out of Lancaster Sound

Shell Canada is handing over its disputed Arctic exploration leases to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, clearing a major hurdle that had blocked the federal government from establishing a new Arctic marine conservation area, reports the Canadian Press.

The 30 permits cover an 8,600 square kilometer (3,320 square mile) region north of Baffin Island and includes Tallurutiup Tariunga, which British explorers named Lancaster Sound.

The ice-free waters, which stay open in the winter, are important feeding areas for narwhal, beluga, walrus and polar bear, and serves as a summer transit corridor for beluga and bowheads as they migrate to their feeding and nursing areas.

Inuit have worked to establish a marine protected area there since the 1980s, but the leases occupied a portion of this ecologically valuable area. Nunavummiut praised the action, Nunatsiaq Online reported.

Shell has held permits in Lancaster Sound since 1971. Although they were set to expire in 1979, they remained in Shell’s hands. In April, WWF-Canada filed a lawsuit against Shell and the Government of Canada, arguing that the permits were not valid because they had not been renewed, ipolitics reported.

Shell was not compensated for the handover even though internal documents showed that Shell told government officials in 2014 that it expected to receive compensation for relinquishing the leases, the National Observer reported. Despite the announcement, the company told the National Observer that it remained interested in exploring areas near Lancaster Sound.

The new Liberal government has set aside CAN$123.7 million ($97m) to expand marine conservation in Canada over the next five years. It has also said that it will protect 10 percent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, in line with the commitments in the Convention on Biological Diversity. So far, Canada has protected only 1.3 percent of its territorial waters.

Last Oil and Gas Company Pulls Out of Alaskan Chukchi Sea

The Spanish oil company Repsol has given up all of its 93 leases in the Chukchi Sea, following other oil companies that have retreated from the Arctic Ocean, the Alaska Dispatch News reported this week.

The company had been the largest leaseholder in the area, according to Popular Science. It spent $15 million for 202,434 hectares (0.5 million acres) in 2008, during the federal government’s record-breaking sale of nearly 500 blocks covering 1.01 million hectares (2.5 million acres), according to the ADN.

ConocoPhillips, Eni, Ilona Energy and Shell have all relinquished leases in the Chukchi Sea, following buckling oil prices and Shell’s failed drilling effort in 2015.

Respol still holds 29 federal leases in the Beaufort Sea that are due to expire in 2017. However, it is closing its offices in Anchorage, according to ADN.

Greenland’s Melting Accelerated by Arctic Ice Loss

Greenland’s record melting in 2015 may have been caused by northward wobbles in the jet stream, reports National Geographic.

A raft of recently published scientific studies have pointed to the strange behavior of the atmospheric currents circling the northern hemisphere and provide some links to the acceleration of the melting sea ice.

In July 2015, a high pressure system parked above Greenland, accompanied by long sunny days that warmed the surface and launched the record melt in the northwest, the Washington Post reported.

The so-called “blocking high” occurred at the same time as a northward push of the jet stream, according to a new study by Marco Tedesco of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The jet stream has become “more loopy and wavy” as more Arctic sea ice is lost, according to the Post.

The runoff from Greenland’s ice sheet will raise sea levels and may alter ocean circulation. A cold-water blob that has appeared south of Iceland may be the result of meltwater.

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