Commodity Wars' latest: For once China is not involved
The trouble is, opening up the Arctic to economic development is fraught with risk. There is already geopolitical conflict brewing in the region.
"It is important to maintain a zone of peace and cooperation in the Arctic," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said at the International Arctic Forum in Moscow last week. "I have no doubt that all issues, including those of the Arctic shelf, can be resolved in the spirit of partnership."
If you believe that, you'll believe anything. In reality, Russia is pouring huge sums of money into assembling the scientific and geographical evidence that will allow it to push its territory as far into the Arctic as possible.
The world has seen how Putin's Russia uses energy as a weapon of power politics. That Putin believes Arctic disputes can be resolved amicably is about as plausible as believing he has genuinely handed over power to President Dmitry Medvedev.
In truth, the Russians are planning to grab control of as much of the Arctic as they can. But so are Canada, the U.S., Iceland, Denmark and Norway. If the Chinese can think of some plausible reason for saying it is theirs, no doubt they will be there soon as well.
There are two good reasons to place a ban on Arctic mining.
First, climate change.
The logic of the energy industry appears to be this: Fossil fuels create global warming, which melts the polar ice cap, which is sort of handy -- even though upsetting for the polar bears -- because it means that with all that stupid ice out of the way we can start drilling for more oil. And once we get it out, and start burning it, it will melt the ice some more, and make even more oil accessible.
David Fuller's view Climate change
is a huge risk, even if the extent to which fossil fuels are a primary contributor
remains debatable. Much talk aside, with GDP growth understandably the Holy
Grail for all governments, they will take the risk.
I see no chance that claimants to the Arctic drilling rights will not develop this resource, especially as Russia is already making the boldest claim. And if countries could not burn oil, it would be more coal and natural gas. Yes, the pursuit of alternative fuels and especially renewables is laudable but they require expensive subsidies and are unlikely to make a significant contribution to global energy consumption anytime soon.
The only non fossil fuel source of energy capable of making a major contribution to global needs over the next 20 years is nuclear. Both the uranium price and the shares which mine it, such as Cameco, are emerging from their torpor.
The uranium mining sector has been overshadowed by gold, copper and iron ore in recent years, and more recently by the surge in rare earths shares. Uranium is the remaining bargain in the mining sector.