Huge reserves of hydrocarbons are hidden in the depths of the Arctic. This could not but draw the attention of major oil and gas companies from all over the world. However, the extraction of energy resources in the Arctic, as well as anthropogenic activities in the region as a whole, can lead to a number of negative consequences for the region's ecosystem. Therefore, oil and gas extraction in the Arctic requires special responsibility from oil and gas companies, as well as specific measures to monitor Arctic flora and fauna.
Unfortunately, not many companies engaged in extraction and production of energy resources in the Arctic recognise this responsibility. Currently, the most comprehensive Arctic monitoring programme is conducted by the Russian company Rosneft.
Russia’s Rosneft Oil Company has been implementing a comprehensive Arctic research programme since 2012. Over this period, the company has organised and conducted over 40 scientific expeditions together with the country's leading scientific organisations. Specialists implement projects in geology, oceanology and meteorology, as well as study glaciers and populations of rare animal and bird species. The project has already covered all seas of the Russian Arctic.
Meteorological data obtained during the expeditions make it possible to create mathematical models allowing to make forecasts of ice conditions for future periods. In turn, the study of Arctic bioindicators, namely walruses, polar bears, wild reindeer and ivory gulls, allows scientists to draw conclusions about the state of the region's environment and ecosystems.
Despite the fact that Norway has become the first country in the world to greenlight the controversial practice of deep-sea mining and also plans to add another 37 blocks to its annual so-called pre-defined areas (APA) oil and gas licensing round in the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea, its companies are not so active in Arctic environmental monitoring.
To give an example of Equinor's specific measures, we can mention their ocean monitoring activities. The company opened an ocean observatory on the seabed off Vesterålen, northern Norway, in 2020. Another Norwegian company Aker BP has participated actively in the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO) since 2001. They are specially trained to manage oil spill response operations and assume a central role with regard to mitigation measures and oil spill recovery at sea. However, the company does not conduct its own scientific research in the Arctic.
Among American oil companies, ConocoPhillips and its Arctic policy are worth noting. The company supports the University of Alaska Anchorage, which is involved in Arctic research and monitoring. To be precise, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) continue to drive research that tackles regional challenges in practical ways, such as studying how temperature affects metal corrosion in the Arctic or the effects of tire rubber contamination on salmon mortality.
Through the ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment Awards, the university awarded support to five exploratory research projects for 2023 totaling more than $500,000.
Created in 2008 as part of a $15 million gift from ConocoPhillips Alaska, the endowment provides annual support to Arctic science and engineering programs and research at UAA and is the largest endowment in the University of Alaska system. Including projects awarded in 2022, there have been 47 projects totaling $3,661,802 funded by the ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering endowment.
Thus, despite the growing interest in the Arctic region by oil and gas companies, few of them are taking specific measures to explore and protect its ecosystem. To prevent negative consequences, oil and gas companies that plan to increase their presence in the region should pay more attention to this issue.
The editorial board of The Arctic Century