Environmental activists with Greenpeace are trying a new tactic to stop oil drilling in the Arctic region: using now extinct woolly mammoths to build support for their anti-fossil fuel campaign in the north pole.
Wrangel Island is a remote island located off the Russian coast in the Chukchi Sea. The frigid island was once home to the last known population of woolly mammoths, a fact Greenpeace is using in their PR campaign against Russian oil giant Rosneft.
— Save The Arctic (@savethearctic) November 11, 2014
Greenpeace claims to have spotted a Rosneft ship off the coast of Wrangel Island last month, which is a protected nature reserve and requires special permissions from the Russian government for anything other than research boats to enter. The group is asking the United Nations to intervene and stop the Russian oil company.
“Days ago, several ships hired by Russian oil company Rosneft were found in the waters of Wrangel Island,” the group says on the webpage linked in its mammoth tweet. “Tell Irina Bokova, the UNESCO Director General, to intervene to stop oil-related industrial activities within the boundaries of the Wrangel Island nature reserve.”
Wrangel Island is the world’s largest polar bear breeding ground (it has the highest den density in the world) and home to other animals like reindeer and musk ox which were introduced to the islands by humans in the 20th Century. The island has a near-mythical status among environmentalists who want to see it off-limits to development at all costs — despite the fact there have been no recorded polar bear deaths from oil drilling.
“Any industrial activity inside the reserve is illegal,” Greenpeace says. “Ships are highly restricted because they threaten the polar bears, walruses, grey whales and endangered birds that live there. Worse, Rosneft may have done seismic testing to search for oil — blasts of noise so loud and intense they can be devastating, even deadly, to marine mammals.”
Rosneft, along with ExxonMobil, got permission from the Russian government in 2013 to conduct oil exploration off the coast of Wrangel Island. The deal Arctic oil deal gives the oil companies access to acreage outside of the Island’s nature reserve, which Greenpeace and other eco-activists have protested.
Activists argue that Rosneft’s lease overlaps with waters off the coast of the Wrangel Island nature preserve. The group, along with others, have campaigned aggressively against Arctic oil drilling by Rosneft as well as by oil companies like Shell and ExxonMobil. Greenpeace activists have even been arrested by Russian forces for trying to disrupt Arctic oil operations.
As Arctic sea ice recedes, oil companies have looked at extracting previously untenable oil reserves in the north pole. Russian energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft have been major players in Arctic oil exploration, along with Shell and ExxonMobil. Progress has been slow in the region due to bad weather conditions and strict environmental regulations.
Shell had trouble drilling in the Arctic back in 2013, eventually having to put its polar drilling plans on hold after one of its oil rigs ran aground after a fierce storm. The incident sparked a federal investigation.
The Chukchi sea region of the Arctic is estimated to have up to 77 billion barrels of oil, the challenge is getting the fuel out from under the sea floor.
But Wrangel Island has more value than just oil to Russia, it also has military value to the country. russia is looking to extend its sphere of influence not just in Eastern Europe, but also north to the polar regions. Any country that can claim dominance over the Arctic region can control vast natural resource reserves as well as potential shipping lanes.
Russia recently established a military base on Wrangel Island to boost its presence in the Arctic. The country plans six Arctic garrisons that allows soldiers to live comfortably in the region and keep watch over strategic interests. By the end of 2015, Russia plans to have all its former Soviet bases in the region up and running, reports the Moscow Times.
“On Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt, block-modules have been unloaded for the construction of military camps. The complex is being erected in the form of a star,” said Russian military official Colonel Alexander Gordeyev.
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