"One beaten man is worth two unbeaten men." This is not the reasoning Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave to explain why Russia is green-lighting a dicey project to drill for undersea oil in the forbidding Arctic Ocean. It's the justification he gave for Russia's choice of partner in the projects: BP.
Last month, BP and Russian state-owned energy company Rosneft signed an Arctic exploration deal to develop prospective offshore oil reserves in what is arguably the most hostile drilling environment in the world. The Arctic has long been thought to harbor vast reserves--the US Geological Survey thinks one-fifth of the world's undiscovered, recoverable supplies are tucked away there. But tapping it is difficult, and the prospect of a spill there somewhat horrifying.
First, the Arctic is a perilous place to drill. Icebergs, gale-force winds, icy temperatures, dense fog--all of these things add up to a potential mine field for drilling operations. All this is compounded by the fact that the Arctic is plunged into darkness for half of the year (just imagine trying to coordinate a Gulf-style cleanup effort in the dark). Ice cover during eight months of the year could block relief ships in case of a disaster, like a blowout or a rig fire.
The Arctic ecosystem is already so fragile, its food chain so delicate, that an unchecked gusher would spell disaster. Which brings us back to Putin, BP, and the hunt for riches in the waters north of Russia's long Arctic coastline. Russia likes BP because, by Putin's reasoning, the company has experience with disaster and a serious interest in not repeating its mistakes. It's unclear if BP having recent experience with ecological disaster means that Russia is expecting to need that kind of experience on hand.
In any case Russia and BP are pressing on, and now that the genie is out of the bottle other Western companies are itching for their shot at Arctic riches. Those include Shell, who recently postponed plans to drill off Alaska's Arctic coast after some U.S. lawmakers and regulators introduced obstacles to the drilling. We'd be surprised to see similar local opposition to a Parliament- and Putin-approved plan in the Russian Arctic.
:( This is how the parceling up of one of the least great stretches of pristine wilderness we have left begins. ):
This is also how they try to make you feel bad for the polar bears, which has nothing to do with drilling. If they were wiping out animals to put in a shopping mall and some neighborhoods then ok. But drilling operations are tiny in comparison. The impact on wildlife is minimal. They aren't going to die if they have to walk around a small facility.
There could be something to this rationale, in specific Russian sense of history. For example having had their inexperiencied noses (and all other body parts here an there) ground into the icy snows of Finland in 1939-40 they took on the German juggernaut and beat them into total submission a few years after that. The Russians seem to respect tough schools in this sense, and seem to respect the lessons learned in them.
Question is, does BP realize that the disaster in the Gulf was not only a PR disaster? That remains to be seen. Until then, I will consider MBA's without engineering or scientific degrees as a waste of time and resources, people you can essentially go "pfftt" at in any discussion conducted among adults.
Risky for Russia and BP or risky for the Arctic?
Not risky for Russia, they have punted any losses to BP (who is taking the profitability risk).
Risky for BP if they can't pull it off, but lucrative enough to make the risk worthwhile - it is not often that an outsider gets a piece of the Russian pie.
Very risky for the workers of these rigs.
Only localized risk for the Arctic. Any spill would linger until the summer, when sunlight and bacteria would break it down and return the carbon to the planet's lifecycle.
And on the positive side, if anything does go wrong, the Russians would not hesitate to throw BP execs in jail, or in a small boat on the open sea.
But seriously folks, I thought it was just last summer that the Russian government was talking about taking climate change seriously after their unprecedented drought and wildfires and smoke and all that. Guess they changed their mind.