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Environmental and Social Challenges of Oil and Gas Developments in the Arctic


Parker, James G., Shell International Exploration and Production B.V, Rijswijk, Netherlands


The Arctic is thought to contain up to 25% of the world’s remaining undiscovered petro­leum resources. Finding and producing these reserves presents the oil and gas industry with many challenges related both to the technology required, and to the environmental resources and social value of the area.

The technological challenges stem from the extreme low temperatures and remoteness of the location from major centres of population. Offshore, the presence of icebergs and ice­bound waters and the extreme water depths present obstacles to many conventional explo­ration, production and export methods. Onshore, the permafrost, prolonged snow cover and short summer seasons are constraints to operational activities. On a larger scale, the integri­ty of Arctic ice masses is an important component of the understanding of global climate change. The Arctic already has a legacy of contamination, both local, as a result of some industrial and military practices, and global as a result of the far-field distribution of persist­ent chemicals.

The oil and gas industry must be able to demonstrate that it is able to operate with the degree of care needed to protect the important Arctic wildlife and natural resources, and to meet the needs of local peoples, many of whom maintain traditional ways of life. Arctic cooperation on environmental and social issues, both at government and research level is well established; legal regimes are still primarily national but regional and transboundary agreement can be expected to develop in the longer term.

Drawing on experience in the North Sea, deepwater Atlantic and other sensitive environ­ments, this paper examines the issues which are likely to emerge as exploration and pro­duction and associated activities increase.