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Open letter sent to the Foreign Ministers of Canada, U.S., Norway, Denmark, Greenland and Russia

We are writing in the lead up to the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland May 12 2011, to express our serious concerns and opposition to the pursuit of offshore drilling in the Arctic

We are joined by other concerned civil society organizations in Canada, U.S., Norway, Denmark, Greenland and Russia also communicating this message with their Foreign Ministers.

We urge you to recognize the serious risks of this pursuit and to support a moratorium on offshore drilling in Arctic waters. We also urge you to use the opportunity of the upcoming Ministerial meeting to encourage the Arctic Council to advise against offshore drilling in the regions and engage in a discussion exploring alternative, viable opportunities for sustainable economic development.  

The Arctic is already warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. Melting glaciers, sea ice and permafrost in the Arctic region is sending a clear warning signal that greenhouse gas emissions caused by dependence on fossil fuels has reached dangerous levels. Scientists are bringing additional light to the role of anthropogenic black carbon, attributed for as much as 30% of the warming in the Arctic since pre-industrial times.

Leading climate scientists are reporting that the highest safe level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is 300 to 350 parts per million (PPM).2 The concentration of CO2 is now around 388 PPM and rising. Scientific reports indicate that we can use less than half the proven economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves if we are to avoid two degrees of global warming – let alone, a more ambitious target.

In other words, the severity of the climate crisis means we will have to leave identified fossil fuel deposits in the ground. Simultaneously, we need to move away from fossil-fuel based economies through measures such as increased conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy expansion, public transit and sustainable agriculture.

The Arctic is known to contain large oil and gas reserves, a significant portion of which is found offshore.4 As you know, melting sea ice is making Arctic waters more accessible for transportation and resource development leading the Arctic to increasingly being framed as a ‘final frontier?’ for fossil fuel development. 

We are deeply concerned about the potential impacts of offshore drilling on fragile ice edge ecosystems upon which indigenous peoples and coastal communities rely for food security, economic, social and cultural needs.  While we are urging a moratorium, we affirm the duty of all governments to abide by the internationally recognized right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent in all stages of the pursuit of oil and gas in the Arctic that impacts indigenous peoples and their lands.

The devastating BP spill off the Gulf of Mexico has awakened our collective consciousness to the serious risks of offshore drilling. Evidence demonstrates that best practices will not always be followed and accidents will happen.6 Arctic conditions such as freezing temperatures, reduced visibility, seasonal ice and extreme weather all increase the probability and consequences of a spill.

One influential report on Arctic oil and gas suggests, “there are no effective means of containing and cleaning up oil spills in broken sea ice. Responding in winter is even more difficult because of harsh weather and limited daylight.”8 The United States National Academy of Sciences determined that “no current cleanup methods remove more than a small fraction of oil spilled in marine waters, especially in the presence of broken ice”.9 Further, the remote nature of potential drilling sites and environmental conditions threatens to allow a gap of days, weeks and even months in responding to a blow out or tanker accident. 

There remains limited knowledge of how a spill may affect Arctic marine life. The long life spans and slow reproductive rates of many Arctic animals increases the potential for accumulating toxins from spilled oil, as does the slow degradation of hydrocarbons in cold and dark conditions.10  Impacts on marine life also stand to have devastating effects on coastal fishing and hunting. Indigenous peoples and coastal communities in these Polar Regions already experience disproportionate environmental health risks, accumulative impact from toxic exposures and effects of the compounding changes of climate change and global warming.

For all these reasons, we are encouraging you to recognize the serious risks pursuing offshore drilling in the Arctic region. Pursuing a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic region is not only logical in the face of a climate crisis, there are serious risks of this pursuit to the fragile ice edge ecosystems, indigenous peoples and coastal communities.  We urge you to pursue a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic and convey this message to the Arctic Council.

Sincerely, 

AETAS Avkhanglesk, Russia 
Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, U.S.
Avataq, Greenland 
Council of Canadians, Canada 
Friends of the Earth Denmark
Friends of the Earth Norway
Friends of the Earth U.S.
Future in our Hands, Norway 
Greenpeace, Canada
Greenpeace, Denmark
Greenpeace, Norway 
Indigenous Environmental Network, Canada
Indigenous Environmental Network, U.S.
Kola Environmental Center, Russia  
Nature and Youth, Norway
Pacific Environment, U.S. 
REDOIL Network, U.S.
Yukon Conservation Society, Canada

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