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Russian polar-cap grab raises concerns

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WASHINGTON – Watch for the Russians to go after some of the world’s largest oil reserves near the Arctic Circle as the sea ice thaws and the Russians use a former nuclear submarine base at Severodvinsk on the White Sea to build oil drilling platforms, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The Russians are expected to begin drilling operations in a few months despite mounting environmental concerns that have been raised by Greenpeace Russia in a report. To some observers, Russia’s quest for oil reserves with little regard for environmental concerns is a new form of “Russian Roulette.”

The warning suggests that an oil accident could contaminate the entire 3,500-kilometer, or 2,175-mile coastline with a serious oil slick, with removal complicated by the particular conditions of the Arctic.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that almost a quarter of the world’s oil reserves are located in the Arctic.

Meantime, other countries in the area are racing to go after the previously inaccessible oil resources as sea ice continues to disappear.

Shell, a Dutch-British oil corporation, plans to start test drilling in the next few months north of Alaska. The drilling operation has the backing of the Obama administration.

In addition, the American oil corporation, ConocoPhilips, similarly plans drilling with a Japanese oil company to extract methane hydrate from natural gas which is trapped inside ice crystals.

“We are witnessing a unique historical situation,” according to Rudiger Gerdes of the German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. “As new ocean territory opens, it awakens new greed.”

Russia, however, has had its eye on the region for some time, but it has a history of mishaps with its equipment which analysts fear can cause serious contamination.

“Environmental protection has never been a high priority for Kremlin strategists, who see the energy sector as the instrument Moscow can use to cement its position as a world power,” according to Benjamin Bidder in a recent Der Spiegel article.

He points out that Russian oil companies’ lack of experience with offshore drilling has led to accidents “time and again.”

Even state-run regulatory officials point out that Russian pipelines burst in more than 25,000 locations each year, leaking some five million tons of oil, said to be seven times the amount of oil that leaked from the 2010 BP accident into the Gulf of Mexico.

In northwestern Russia near the Arctic Circle, snowmelt and rain washes an estimated 500,000 metric tons of oil into the region’s major rivers and then into the Arctic Ocean.

Residents in the area have complained to the Russian government about the potential for environmental damage but have received no answer.

“The government can’t leave (monitoring of pipelines and pollutants) to the oil corporations,” one resident said. “Everywhere else, oil is seen as black gold. For us, it’s the black plague.”

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