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Mining in the Arctic

Because of climate change, the Arctic ice cap is melting more and faster than ever before. Some climate experts believe the Arctic may be ice free in summer in the next few years. As this area is released from the ice, many countries and companies around the world plan to mine for oil, gas and other minerals there. But should they be allowed to?

A diamond mine in the Canadian arctic
Photo Trevor MacInnis

The very idea of mining in Arctic regions is highly controversial, as it would mean changing one of the last places on earth untouched by humans, risking delicate ecosystems that are already being 
 affected by climate change.

Millions of years ago, the land under the North Pole was a tropical forest - perfect conditions for the creation of fossil fuels. When "easy to mine" oil and gas become harder to find, the pressure mounts to look in more difficult, extreme environments, such as the Arctic. But in any extreme environment, the risks of accidents and the difficulties of cleaning up any spills become very much harder to control.

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, causing a local ecological disaster. Oil from that incident can still be found on the beaches there over  20 years later.

The Arctic seas are only relatively calm for a short period in summer each year. Outside of these times, the sea is too rough for drilling rigs to safely work without great risks to human safety and of spillage.

 Read the last 3 paragraphs of this article, which describes the difficulties that Shell had when they tried to drill for oil in the Arctic seas in Sept 2012.

Next: Energy security - why go to all this trouble?

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