Greenland Says No to All Future Fossil Fuel Exploration

ON 07/18/2021 AT 09:31 PM

With recently discovered fossil fuel resources of almost 18 billion barrels of oil and 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the Arctic territory of Denmark could have sold leases to those resources and finally bought its freedom from Denmark. It chose instead to save the planet.

Kulusuk Island, Greenland

An aerial view of the icebergs near Kulusuk Island, off the southeastern coastline of Greenland, a region that is melting now 6X faster than it was 20 years ago. The government could have made billions of dollars off selling the leases to new oil prospecting regions such melting would have allowed, but it chose a very different path for its future. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The government of Greenland is an autonomous dependent territory of Denmark. In return for being part of Denmark, Greenland receives an annual subsidy of $680 million Canadian dollars (U.S. $539 million).

Greenland also has a vast untapped oil reserve estimated at 17.5 billion barrels located off its east coast. The same region also includes 148 trillion cubic feet of untapped natural gas fields. These numbers were certified by the U.S. Geological Survey, which may have been one of the reasons the Trump gang had once speculated in might offer to purchase Greenland from Denmark.

The reserves represent more than enough value to have enabled the territory to become an independent nation, once and for all, and cut the need forever for the annual subsidy. It could have also provided much-needed funds to spur economic development in the country.

Prior to the recent April parliamentary election this and one other important environmental decision became a major part of the election discussions. The second issue at stake in the voting involved the opportunity for increased mining of uranium and rare earth elements on the country. With global heating of the planet accelerating melting of ice, snow, and permafrost at record rates in the Arctic territory, mining in Greenland was suddenly more feasible at lower costs than ever before. It would cause major environmental damage in the process, but for some the money to be earned both by this and the increased oil and gas drilling was worth it.

In April. an important parliamentary election took place in Greenland that has now proved pivotal on both issues. Then a coalition government headed by the left-wing Intuit Ataqatigiit party won the election, in part because of a past strong stance in blocking a uranium mining venture in Kvanefjeld.

After the new government took office, it set to work developing a budget and plans based in part on putting the environment before many other causes.

Many assumed the government would continue to block expanded uranium and rare earth mineral mining in the territory, as it had said it would. But despite the pro-environment approach, it was still high on the list of possibilities that Greenland would now actively pursue selling oil leases for its newfound reserves and finally approach Denmark to be set free.

Last week the new administration announced its decisions. On July 15 it announced it would put an end to all future oil and gas exploration within its borders, except for the existing four hydrocarbon prospecting licenses it previously issued. That decision had apparently been made on June 24 but the public release of the information was held quiet until last week.

It also followed through on its stance on mining. It announced in parallel in was banning all preliminary investigations for, explorations of, and extractions of uranium from within the country.

While the financial possibilities of opening up its territorial waters to extensive drilling would have been lucrative, the territorial leadership said in a statement, “the Greenlandic government believes that the price of oil extraction is too high. This is based upon economic calculations, but considerations of the impact on climate and the environment also play a central role in the decision."

Naaja H. Nathanielsen, minister for housing, infrastructure, mineral resources, and gender equality, made the point even stronger in a personal statement issued at the same time.

“As a society, we must dare to stop and ask ourselves why we want to exploit a resources,” Nathanielsen said. “Is the decision based upon updated insight and the belief that it is the right thing to do? Or are we just continuing business as usual?

“It is the position of the Greenlandic government,” she continued, “that our country is better off focusing on sustainable development, such as the potential for renewable energy.”

According to Greenland’s minister for business, trade, foreign affairs, and climate, Pele Bronberg, the decision makes strong business sense for the long-term interests of the country.

"International investments in the energy sector in recent years are moving away from oil and gas and into renewable energy. It is therefore natural that we emphasize business on the opportunities of the future and not on the solutions of the past," he said.