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Russia’s New Arctic Oil Development Is a Nightmare

Molly Taft

Published 4 months ago: May 29, 2021 at 2:15 am
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Russia’s national oil company has begun construction on a massive project in the Arctic that officials say will produce 22.7 million tonnes of oil each year by 2024. The new operation is possible only because the Arctic is now traversable in places and at times it previously wasn’t, due to sea ice levels plummeting as the planet warms. Hahahahha everything is fine!

The Barents Observer reported this week that construction ships have been spotted off the coast of the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia and have dropped off around 18,000 tonnes of construction materials to begin building what will be the Arctic’s biggest oil terminal. The project, called Vostok Oil, is owned by Rosneft, which is controlled by the Russian government but has a number of private investors (including BP, which, if you’ll recall, has big plans to be net zero by 2050). The CEO of Rosneft told Vladimir Putin that the company had also started drilling in a new licence area this month as part of the project.

The proposed project is dauntingly huge. Rosneft said that it anticipates exporting 22.7 million tonnes of oil a year by 2024, 45.4 million tonnes by 2027, and 104 million tonnes by 2030. (The company plans to make 15 entirely new towns for the estimated 400,000 workers needed.) The International Energy Agency, of course, said earlier this month that all new oil and gas production needs to stop by next year to keep the world on track to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. But screw that, apparently! There’s oil to be drilled in one of the most sensitive regions in the world!

If you want to feel more blindness-inducing rage, Rosneft has said that oil that will be produced from the Vostok project is “environmentally friendly,” the Barents Observer reported. Apparently, the company said the oil will have “a very small hydrocarbon footprint” (they didn’t provide any further details on how they’re calculating this, although they have bragged about developing “environmentally friendly” drilling fluids), and Rosneft said it’s planning to power its extraction with wind turbines. Wow, knowing that makes the whole thing so much better! (Nevermind that burning oil downstream is the biggest source of emissions.)

The area where the terminal is being built is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world. Earlier this year, the Taymyr Peninsula recorded temperatures 12 degrees Celsius warmer than average. A climate report from the Russian meteorological agency said that the peninsula is heating up faster than any other area in the country, recording a 1.2-degree-Celsius increase in temperature since 1976.

Last year’s fire season was one for the books, with scientists finding it was made 600 times more likely due to climate change. The blazes released record amounts of carbon, and zombie fires, caused by peat smouldering under the snow through the winter, have already reignited aboveground this year. A few peninsulas over, the tundra has also taken to exploding with alarming regularity in recent years owing to rising heat.

Horrifying? Yes, unless you’re an oil and gas company. Melting sea ice has made fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic possible since ships can now bring supplies and fuel back and forth over routes that were previously frozen over. Earlier this year, a gas tanker used an icebreaker to traverse through Arctic seas in the dead of winter, a previously unheard of feat that the shipping company produced a slightly-too-cheery video about. As journalist Amy Westervelt pointed out earlier this year, American oil and gas companies have basically been chomping at the bit to have the Arctic open up for decades: Firms like Chevron and Exxon (as well as international companies like Shell) have patents dating back to the 1970s and 1980s for Arctic drilling techniques and machinery.

Now it seems as the rest of the world falls apart, the ones responsible for the damage are still figuring out ways to profit.

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