A Swedish icebreaker has been contracted to a US company involved in Arctic oil prospecting, north east of Greenland, sparking a protest from the environmental group Greenpeace.
They say the fragile environment of the Arctic and the lessons learned from BP’s catastrophic oil spill in the Mexican Gulf mean that Sweden should push for a ban on Arctic oil drilling instead of helping to make it happen.
“They are there to explore the possibility to extract oil and gas from the sea bed. And to do that in this extremely vulnerable habitat, we are completely against that,” Dr Therese Jacobson, a campaigner and microbiologist at Greenpeace Nordic, told Radio Sweden.
The state-owned icebreaker, Oden, reached the Artic late last week and is on hire until October to GX Technology, which carries out seismic mapping of the sea bed for oil and gas companies. Among its list of clients are the oil giants, British Petroleum and Shell.
Tomas Årnell, head of ship management at the Swedish Maritime Administration, says that the Oden is in the Arctic for research purposes and to provide icebreaking services.
“We are doing this job for companies for research purposes, “he said. “We don’t know if it’s for oil prospecting – but of course that’s one of the reasons I think.”
While the Obama administration attempts to ban offshore drilling in the US, in the wake of the Mexican Gulf oil spill, the European Union has given the go-ahead for drilling in Europe. Norway and Denmark have approved dozens of test drills in the Arctic Sea.
Contracting out icebreakers brings in valuable revenue for the Swedish Maritime Administration – in the region of $4 million this year – which is ploughed back in to the costly running of the fleet.
“It’s good that she [the Oden] works up there and shows her capability. And we get a lot of income and that is one of our missions at the maritime administration – to try to hire them out,” he said.
“If we don’t do it someone else will do it, maybe with another ship not as good as the Oden, and then it could be dangerous for them.”
A ban on Arctic oil drilling
Greenpeace say that it’s hypocritical to dispatch icebreakers, like the Oden, on polar research expeditions one year and then on sea bed mapping for oil prospecting the next year.
They want Sweden to pull out of any oil related projects in the region and to push for a moratorium on Arctic oil drilling, similar to the one in place in the Antarctic.
“Offshore drilling should be banned. We don’t have any safe ways of doing this and we are risking the entire Arctic – it’s not moral and it’s not right,” said Jacobson.
“Sweden has said we want to protect the Arctic and work for a good Arctic environment and this is a step in the opposite direction, facilitating oil exploration in the area.”
More: Radio Sweden