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article imageArctic Under Stress From Leisure Lovers

By Lenny Stoute     Jul 29, 2008 in Environment
Cruise ships full of folks getting up close with a pristine environment are endangering that very environment. Equally worrisome, the disclosure that 90 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the Arctic has eight nations licking their energy-hungry chops.
Just four years ago, 50 cruise ships penetrated eastern Arctic waterways As Arctic cruising was then mostly for the well-heeled, not much attention was paid except by the cruise marketing people. In 2007, 250 ships made the run, with the most increases in Nunavut and Greenland. That number is expected to increase this year and it's causing concern among environmental scientists.
Walter Nadolny, an associate professor in marine transportation at the State University of New York's Maritime College, says the time is now to clamp down on cruise ship traffic in the area.
Apart from the ever-present concerns about marine life turned into sushi by the ships' giant props, Nadolny said the things haul a slew of misery in their wakes. Everything from invasive foreign marine species to noxious ship emissions that could harm fragile Arctic areas, such as oil emissions from bilge water, sewage emissions from sewage treatment plants, ballast emissions.
" As far as conveying invasive species up here from other areas in the world, that to me is a huge threat that nobody sees right now," Nadolny told CBC News at a symposium in Iqaluit this week on adapting to climate change.
Nadolny said vessels can take on ballast water in countries or regions far from the Arctic, which means foreign species could be brought up north that would push local species out.
The Arctic should be declared a special area, he said, with strict safety measures and restrictions on where ships can go, how fast they can go, and what they can discharge into Arctic waters.
"If you want to come through here, we want you to have the best pollution control technology on your engines, the best pollution control technology on your sewage discharges, the best plan for reducing impacts for ballast water."
Canadian symposium delegate Aaju Peter, who has worked on a cruise ship, said the Arctic cruise ship industry is growing too quickly, and agreed Canada needs to take a closer look at effects on the region.
"We would like to pass legislation that safeguards what kind of ships and the number of passengers, the areas that they'll be going, because we don't want to disturb wildlife, we don't want to disrupt traditional sites and heritage sites," she said.
This year, 26 cruise ships are stopping in Nunavut from July through September, with upwards of 100 to 180 passengers on board each ship.
That's the surface threat, What lies beneath the Arctic's waters could have an even more devastating impact. Namely, the estimated 90bn barrels of untapped oil, according to figures from the US Geological Survey (USGS).
The USGS says the area has three times as much untapped natural gas as oil. The figures from the USGS are said to be the first estimate of the energy available north of the Arctic circle. According to the survey, the Arctic holds about 13% of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 per cent of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20% of the undiscovered natural gas liquids.
Drilling plans in the Arctic have been controversial, with environment groups worried about the effect on wildlife.
While oil prices have been falling in recent days the wise money's saying the dip won't last and expect prices to creep back above the current $125 a barrel.
So the heat's back on the offshore drilling issue and it's at sunburn level. Mostly because it represents one last kick at the legacy thing for Dubya.
He's busy at it, urging Congress to end a ban on drilling for oil in US coastal waters, to make the US less reliant on imports. If oil prices kick up again, the offshore drilling thing may gain a more sympathetic audience. It's to be hoped that same audience is seeing all the cards in play and noting the profound ambiguity of the USGS in remarks such as this from director Mark Myers in the report.
"Before we can make decisions about our future use of oil and gas and related decisions about protecting endangered species, native communities and the health of our planet, we need to know what's out there"
Fox Mulder couldn't have said it better. And didn't he just tell us what's out there?
Meanwhile, the exploration companies are making sacrifices to the gods of Global Warming, as their data is said to indicate the Arctic's recent rapid ice melt may make it easier to get reserves out of the region.
The oil and gas is said to be recoverable using current technology, but the USGS said it "did not consider economic factors such as the effects of permanent sea ice or oceanic water depth in its assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources."
To date there has been no response to the findings from the other Arctic-busting nations. The sound you hear is Dubya rubbing his hands with glee, a Texan oil-based detergent.
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