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Norwegian energy

A dilemma wrapped in a quandary

February 8, 2023

Norway can help Europe get over its energy insecurity, but that would only add to the chaos being caused by global warming

BRIEFING | Norway can help Europe get over its energy insecurity, but that would only add to the chaos being caused by global warming

Oslo, you’re at a crossroads (📸: Marc Lanteigne)

By Marc Lanteigne


KEY FINDINGS
■ Rising energy prices and the war against Ukraine muted Norwegian discussions of a near-term move away from oil and gas
■ Europe’s search for alternative energy suppliers served to push Norway further into the energy spotlight
■ But this has raised further questions about the environmental impacts of its fossil-fuel production
■ Oslo’s pledges to go to net zero carbon pollution by 2050 through electrification of transport, wind, and crucially, hydrogen


LESS THAN TWO years ago, speculation was swirling around the possibility of a dramatic shift in Norwegian energy policy, as the fossil fuel-rich nation appeared poised to downgrade its oil and gas development projects in favour of concentrating on renewable energy alternatives.

The run-up to parliamentary elections in September 2021 was dominated by questions about what would happen should the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet), then in opposition, be required to share power with the Green Party (Miljøpartiet De Grønne) and the Socialist Left (Sosialistisk Venstreparti). Such a coalition would likely have resulted in an attempt to reconfigure the economy more definitively away from fossil fuels, especially since the Greens had called for an immediate halt to further oil exploration and the termination of petroleum development by 2035.

The 2021 election was held during a period of growing evidence of climate change in the Arctic as well as a report published earlier that year by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that included warnings about the precarious state of Arctic sea ice and warming temperatures in the far north. In the years prior, Oslo had been chided by both domestic and international groups for not doing enough to address climate-change pressures, including in the Arctic, and for advocating green policies while maintaining a robust oil and gas industry.

SEE RELATED: Activists protest against Norway Arctic oil licenses

However, after the parliamentary vote, neither the Greens, which fell short of the expected number of seats, nor the Socialist Left, were invited into the new Labour-led coalition. Instead, the Labour party, led by Jonas Gahr Støre, joined with the moderate Centre Party (Senterpartiet) to form a minority government in parliament (unlike in other parliamentary systems, minority governments in Norway are commonplace, as well as traditionally stable).

Discussion of a short-term move away from oil and gas in Norway initially became more muted after the new government took office, and the spike in post-pandemic oil prices further quieted any discussion of a “green wave” in Norwegian energy policy. Despite ongoing unease in some parts of the country over the incompatibility of Norwegian energy policies with global climate-change commitments, the Støre government announced plans in March of last year to release new drilling licenses in Arctic waters, and Oslo declined to support a call by the European Union in late 2021 to implement a moratorium on Arctic fossil fuel extraction.

The February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the scramble by many European economies to implement trade sanctions and to sever fossil-fuel trade with the Vladimir Putin regime, changed the game again. As a result, Russia has been diverting much of its Arctic oil trade to both China and India, at reduced prices. (China has also been a major buyer of Russian liquified natural gas since European markets were cut off). In September 2022, the abrupt shutdown, widely blamed on sabotage, of the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines connecting Germany and Russia in the Baltic Sea further raised the alarm about the dangers of European dependence upon Russian supplies.

Europe’s search for alternative energy suppliers served to push Norway further into the region’s energy spotlight. Oslo has been called upon to expand both its oil and gas production for sale to European markets, which has not only raised new questions about environmental impacts but has also at times complicated relations between Norway and European energy purchasers.

The pipes that can soothe Europe’s energy insecurities (📸: Anita Starzycka / Pixabay)

It was announced this month that Norway’s oil and gas profits reached record levels during 2022, with a recent report noting that Equinor, the country’s state energy concern, made €22.6 billion just in the period between July and September last year. Norway’s Government Pension Fund-Global (Statens pensjonsfond utland), based on the country’s fossil-fuel trade, now stands at about 12.88 trillion kroner (€1.17).

Since last year, Mr Støre’s government has been attempting to deflect criticisms that Norway has been profiting unfairly from the energy crunch elsewhere in Europe. Debates about how to use these additional funds for the benefit of Ukraine, and Europe as a whole, have persisted, and the announcement last October by the government that Norway would be cutting its aid budget in 2023 from one percent of annual national income to 0.75% did little to silence criticism. Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, was especially direct on the subject in May last year, when he called upon the Norwegian government to “share excess profits” made through its fossil-fuel sales. Oslo has also declined to implement a pricing cap on exported Norwegian natural gas, but did agree to levying a windfall tax on its oil and gas firms.

However, pressures on natural-gas prices eased somewhat at the beginning of 2023 in both North America and Europe, due to conservation efforts, a collective desire to prevent Russia from weaponising fossil fuel prices against the West and a so-far warmer than expected winter in many parts of the northern hemisphere.

The potential contradictions between demands for Norwegian oil and gas and the country’s commitment to protect the Arctic environment have also been illuminated via an announcement last month that Equinor would invest 13.2 billion kroner in upgrading LNG facilities in the far northern town of Hammerfest to not only boost production but also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via upgrades to the facilities electrical systems.

SEE RELATED: Green with ammonia

As well, despite ongoing differences over Norwegian fossil-fuel policies, Mr Støre’s government has nonetheless sought to burnish its environmental credentials in other ways, especially as Oslo has pledged “net zero” carbon emissions policies by 2050. Wind power has become a subject of greater interest, and Norway continues to situate itself as a leader in the sale of electric vehicles.

This month, it was announced via a joint statement that Norway would be co-operating with Germany to develop hydrogen gas power infrastructure by 2030. This construction would facilitate the transfer of “blue hydrogen”, with an eye to eventually shifting to “green hydrogen” (produced using renewable energy) capabilities between the two states. Blue hydrogen refers to hydrogen created by the burning of natural gas and using carbon capture and storage. Green hydrogen, which at present is considered too costly to develop on a grand scale, is created via consumption of renewable energy. Hydrogen has long been considered a promising, and more environmentally friendly (as its waste product is water vapour), potential successor to fossil fuels.

Under the agreement, Equinor and RWE, a German energy firm, would build hydrogen-ready power plants as well as a pipeline connecting the two countries. If successful, the enterprise would serve to further diversify European energy supplies while further shielding the region from Russian energy pressures. However, there were initial concerns about cost, as the pipeline alone was reported as having a provisional price tag of 32 billion kroner, as well as over the timetable as to when the project could successfully shift from blue to green hydrogen development, as Germany is especially interested in making that transition as soon as possible.

In many ways, Norway is still facing the same energy dilemma it had before the start of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, namely how best to address geopolitical and economic needs on one hand while honouring its environmental commitments on the other. Climate-change pressures continue to be observed in the Arctic this winter, but these concerns are now more commonly overshadowed by European insecurities, including access to energy, fostered by Moscow’s belligerence.


The author is an associate professor of political science at UiT, in Tromsø, Norway, and the editor of Over the Circle, where this article was originally published.


FURTHER READING
Norway’s Oil Profits Soared To New Heights In 2022 (OilPrice.com)
Equinor to Invest $1.3bn in Hammerfest LNG To Strengthen Norway’s Position as Largest Gas Supplier to Europe (High North News)
Equinor Spends $1.3B to Decarbonize Norway’s Sole LNG Export Terminal (Maritime Executive)
Norway rejects EU price cap proposal (EU Observer)
Germany and Norway reach blue hydrogen agreement (DW)

RESOURCES
Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis — summary for policymakers (IPCC)
Joint Statement – Germany – Norway – Hydrogen (Norwegian government)
3 Questions: Blue hydrogen and the world’s energy systems (MIT)
Hydrogen Fuel Basics (US Department of Energy)


Arctic Business Journal Briefings offer readers a summary and analysis of current issues and trends, key firms and coming events. Articles include links to further reading and external resources to give readers a place to begin their due diligence. 

As a way to encourage discussion about topics, briefings will also seek to include opinionated commentary submitted by outside contributors.

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Russia’s Novatek, India’s GAIL poised to seal gas sales deal

February 6, 2023

Russia’s largest liquefied natural gas producer, Novatek, is close to a deal to supply gas to GAIL Ltd of India as it seeks alternative markets to Europe, three industry sources said.

Novatek is based in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region in western Siberia (📸: Novatek)

By Nidhi Verma, Reuters

NEW DEHLI — RUSSIA’S largest liquefied natural gas producer, Novatek, is close to a deal to supply gas to GAIL Ltd of India as it seeks alternative markets to Europe, three industry sources said.

The companies are negotiating the terms of a contract and could seal an agreement within a week, the sources said, adding volumes would depend on logistics, such as shipping and insurance.

GAIL and Novatek did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Russia is looking for outlets for its energy resources after Western countries cut back their purchases following its invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

For its part, GAIL needs to recover after its profit sank 93% in the three months to December from a year earlier as a result of disrupted supply from a former unit of Russian giant Gazprom.

A preliminary deal could be signed during Novatek Chairman Leonid Mikhelson’s visit to India next week for an energy conference, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

GAIL, India’s largest gas distributor, has rationed gas supplies and cut runs at its petrochemical plants after supplies under a 20-year deal with Gazprom Marketing and Trading Singapore were halted.

Novatek is offering a few LNG cargoes every month under a long-term deal to GAIL on a free-on-board basis, meaning the buyer arranges for ships and insurance, the sources said.

The Indian company, however, is asking Novatek to deliver gas to Indian ports as shipping and insurance companies are wary of providing services for Russian oil and gas following the West’s imposition of sanctions on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

GAIL’s head of finance, Rakesh Kumar Jain, last week said his company was in talks with various suppliers, including Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, for gas purchases to meet increasing demand in the country.

“We are actively in discussion with a couple of long-term LNG suppliers…Hopefully, we should be able to conclude at least 1 contract shortly,” A. Kaviraj, GAIL’s executive director, told an analyst call.

GAIL agreed to a 20-year deal with GMTS in 2012 for annual purchases of an average of 2.5 million tonnes of LNG on a delivered basis.

At the time, GMTS was a unit of Gazprom Germania, now called Sefe, but the Russian parent gave up ownership of Sefe after Western sanctions.

The initial contract with GMTS was also for supplies from the Yamal project in the Arctic, but the former Russian entity was arranging supplies from elsewhere to cut freight costs as the deal was done on delivered basis, the sources said.


This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

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Biden administration backs smaller version of ConocoPhillips Alaska oil project

February 2, 2023

President Joe Biden’s administration said on Wednesday it would support a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ planned $6 billion (€5.5 billion) Willow oil and gas drilling project in Alaska’s western Arctic, but has not yet made a final decision on the contentious proposal.

An aerial view of one of the exploration pads and wells that ConocoPhillips drilled during the 2018 exploration season at its Willow prospect (📸: Judy Patrick Photography / ConocoPhillips Alaska)

By Nichola Groom, Reuters

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN’S administration said on Wednesday it would support a scaled-back version of ConocoPhillips’ planned $6 billion (€5.5 billion) Willow oil and gas drilling project in Alaska’s western Arctic, but has not yet made a final decision on the contentious proposal.

The Willow project’s fate is being closely watched by both the oil and gas industry and environmental groups as Mr Biden seeks to balance his goal of fighting climate change with calls to increase domestic fuel supplies to keep prices down.

The Willow project area holds an estimated 600 million barrels of oil, or more than the amount currently held in the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the country’s emergency supply. The project is important to Alaska’s elected officials, who are hoping it will help offset oil production declines in a state whose economy relies heavily on the drilling industry.

Meanwhile, extreme weather across the globe has intensified calls from activists to move rapidly away from burning fossil fuels because of their contribution to warming the planet. Mr Biden vowed during his 2020 election campaign to end federal oil and gas drilling as part of a pledge to decarbonise the US economy by 2050. But that plan faced lawsuits from drilling states and pressure to boost production as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a spike in energy prices.

The US Bureau of Land Management published the project’s final environmental review, selecting a “preferred alternative” that would include three drill sites and less surface infrastructure than originally proposed. ConocoPhillips had initially wanted to build up to five drill sites, dozens of miles of roads, seven bridges and pipelines.

According to BLM’s analysis, the design it endorsed would reduce the project’s impact on habitats for species such as polar bears and yellow-billed loons. Alaska officials and ConocoPhillips backed that option in letters submitted to the agency in recent months.

In a statement, ConocoPhillips said the design represented “a viable path forward” for Willow and said it was ready to begin construction “immediately” upon approval. The company said the project would deliver up to $17 billion in revenue for federal and state governments and local Alaska communities.

The release of the document comes after a string of actions by the administration in recent weeks to protect wilderness areas from development, including Alaska’s Tongass National Forest and Bristol Bay watershed, as well as the Boundary Waters area in Minnesota.

Environmental groups criticised the analysis and called on Biden to reject the project.

“Our window to act is rapidly closing to avert catastrophic climate change, and this plan only takes us one giant step closer to the edge,” Kristen Miller, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.

BLM’s parent agency, the Interior Department, said in a statement that the selection of the preferred alternative was not a final decision on approval of the project, adding that it had “substantial concerns” about Willow’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions and wildlife.

A final decision will be made no sooner than 30 days after the review’s publication, the department said.

Willow would be located inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 23 million-acre (93 million-hectare) area on the state’s North Slope that is the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States.

It was initially approved by the Trump administration, but a federal judge in Alaska in 2021 reversed that decision, saying the environmental analysis was flawed.


This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

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Iceland

Treble Technologies: composing a company

January 23, 2023

Iceland’s Treble Technologies is making a lot of noise by making things sound better

Iceland’s Treble Technologies is making a lot of noise by making things sound better

A band on the move (📸: Treble Technologies)

By Elías Thorsson

REMEMBER THE OLD aphorism about no-one doing anything about the weather? Well, turn that on its head, and you more or less have the attitude Treble Technologies takes towards the sounds all around us. “Sound is everywhere and studies have shown that it impacts everything from our health and wellbeing to sleep and even productivity,” says Finnur Pind, the firm’s founder and chief executive (pictured above, with long hair). “The quality, or lack thereof, of acoustics influences our daily lives and happiness.”

Reykjavík-based Treble Technologies has quickly established itself as one of the most exciting and innovative start-ups in Iceland, thanks to its VR software that creates a 3D model of a space which allows architects and designers to experience its acoustics. The software is set to launch 1 March, and, last December, in its latest round of financing, the company raised €8 million.

Treble Technologies traces its roots back to 2013, when Mr Pind was studying at DTU, Denmark’s leading technical university. There, he became interested in sound simulation and came up with the idea of making a 3D model of a building or an object and then to use computer calculations to determine its acoustics.

Mr Pind wrote a master’s thesis on the subject in which the first seeds of the software that would become the foundation for Treble Technologies were planted. It wasn’t, however, until his PhD studies at the same university that the company began to take shape.

At that time, Mr Pind and DTU were approached by Henning Larsen Architects, one of Denmark’s most renowned architecture firms, to help it find a way to incorporate acoustical design into the buildings it was designing.

“The issue Henning Larsen kept running into was that too often it was only at the end of the design process — or, in some cases, when the building had already been constructed — that they discovered that the acoustics of a building were terrible. This would lead to costly and time-consuming repairs and changes,” he says.

Working with a team of engineers, mathematicians and physicists, Mr Pind was able to construct a prototype that showed itself capable of simulating acoustics better and faster than anything on the market.

In 2020, following his studies, Mr Pind teamed up with Jesper Pedersen, a fellow acoustic engineer, to found Treble Technologies around the prototype.

“In the beginning we were cautiously optimistic. We knew we had something of quality, but at the time we didn’t quite realise the widespread applicability for the tool,” Mr Pind says. “Things then started to snowball fast and we began working with many big construction, car and tech companies that started utilising our technology to achieve things they had previously struggled with.”

If you aren’t sure if you’ve ever experienced what it’s like when a building sounds bad, think of the stress that office noise can create, or the way a badly designed concert venue can make your hate your favourite artist, or when echoes render even the most expensive sound systems ineffective. Making a building sound good takes both specialisation and skill, but it, first and foremost, requires a recognition of its importance.

“When designing a concert hall, a company hires a deep acoustic specialist, but when a company is designing an office complex, a residential building, a school or hospital or what have you, it is usually not feasible to employ a specialist. However, acoustics impact the well-being and productivity of the people that occupy and use those spaces, and it is especially there that a cost-effective and powerful tool such as ours is needed to optimise sound.”

Home of Treble’s first movement (📸: Henning Larsen Architects)

Even though Treble Technologies doesn’t officially release its software until 1 March, it is already in use with the company’s partners and pilot customers. One of the first buildings to have benefitted from it is the new city hall in Uppsala (pictured above and below). The 25,000 square metre building designed by Henning Larsen Architects using the Treble Technologies prototype opened its doors last year.

What makes the tool especially accessible is its VR technology. That makes it possible to to step into a space that doesn’t exist yet and to experience its acoustics first-hand. There are a variety of metrics that can be used to calculate acoustics, but, unless you have a degree in physics, you probably won’t be unable to make any sense of what those numbers mean.

“One of the innovative things we are doing is, almost like a video game, allowing you to walk around in a building. Instead of presenting you with figures and graphs that only an expert would understand,” Mr Pind says. “We start out with a 3D model of a structure. That 3D model takes into account the different building materials that make up that structure — wood, glass etc. We then take a model of the sound source and sound wave calculations and combine the two.”

In the beginning, Treble Technologies was almost entirely focused on on the construction industry, but, as things progressed, he discovered that the technology could be useful for other industries — things like TVs, speakers, headphones and mobile phones — basically, according to Mr Pind, any product that for which sound quality is important. Today, its clients include some of the world’s biggest tech and car companies.

Form follows function, but in Uppsala acoustics weren’t an afterthought (📸: Henning Larsen Architects)

The company was launched with a grant from Rannís, the national technology development fund, as well as investments from close friends and family. It began actively looking for funding, and during its pre–seed funding raised €1.5 million.

“Our first major investors were the Icelandic investment fund Novator and a private Icelandic investor,” Mr Pind says. “This was a major boon for us. We went from being four dudes hacking away in a windowless basement to having an office and being able to hire staff. A year later we had another round of funding and the truth is our product is expensive to research and develop.”

In December, the company announced it had raised €8 million in its latest round of funding, made up of a €2.5 million grant from the European Investment Fund and €5.5 million from investors. Frumtak Venture, an Icelandic investment fund, led the round, other investors included Saint-Gobain, a French producer of high-performance materials and one of the world’s largest companies. Furthermore, the EIC has committed to invest in the company in 2023.

This year, Treble Technologies moved into a new office, fittingly located next to Harpa, Reykjavík’s iconic concert hall — itself a Henning Larsen design. It plans to double its workforce by spring. The biggest reason for the firm’s move to Iceland from Denmark was to be close to friends and family, but, according to Mr Pind, being located in the Icelandic capital has placed Treble Technologies in an Icelandic start-up scene where getting in touch with investors is relatively easy.

“The benefits are how easy it is to get in touch with people. The minister of innovation met with us at one point and told us to let her know if there was anything she could do to facilitate a better working environment. I doubt that would’ve happened in the US or Denmark,” he says. “The problem is, however, that because we are such a specialised company that it can be difficult to find employees. All, or at least many, of the country’s acoustical engineers are already working for us, which means we need to go abroad to find staff.”

Deadline-day for Treble Technologies is 1 March, when its software, goes from being a prototype to version 1.0. There are still, as he puts it, “a million things we want to develop further” ahead of the launch, but Treble Technologies, he says, is already looking ahead.

“I want us to be the tool that is used to design everything that involves sound. That includes physical objects such as cars, buildings, phones etc. But also when it comes to the future of virtual reality.”


This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

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Alaska

University report aims to guide state energy policy

January 20, 2023

The University of Alaska has released a new report on Alaska energy issues, ranging from its history of fiscal challenges to the potential for a wide variety of renewable energy sources in the future.

A view of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus from the Elvey building (📸: Clare Skelly / Nasa)

By Yereth Rosen, Alaska Beacon

THE UNIVERSITY OF Alaska has released a new report on Alaska energy issues, ranging from its history of fiscal challenges to the potential for a wide variety of renewable energy sources in the future.

The report, titled “Alaska’s Changing Arctic: Energy Issues and Trends”, is the first of what is planned to be a series of annual briefing reports compiled by University of Alaska experts with the intent of informing state leaders on policies.

“As a global leader in Arctic research, policy development and leadership, the university system is uniquely positioned to provide essential information to the state’s leaders and all Alaskans,” Pat Pitney, the University of Alaska president, said in a statement marking the report’s release on Tuesday. “This report, representing the breadth and depth of our Arctic expertise, illustrates how we can support state interests and policy initiatives, such as infrastructure and energy sustainability.”

Authors are from various parts of the university system, including the Center for Arctic Policy Studies and the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The report is something of a state-level parallel to a national-level report, last updated in March, released by the Congressional Research Office.

One goal is to address the priorities spelled out in the 2015 state law that created an Alaska Arctic policy. The four priorities are to promote economic and resource development, address the state’s gap in response capacity, support healthy communities and strengthen science and research.

The selection of energy as the subject of the first report is timely, said Amy Lauren Lovecraft, the director of the Center for Arctic Policy Studies and one of the leaders of the project.

“Energy is really on everyone’s mind,” Lovecraft said.

Oil prices have taken a tumble in recent months from the highs resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That has profound short-term implications for the state budget. Projections for total state revenues in the current fiscal year are about $1 billion (€920 million) lower now than what was expected just last spring, according to the 15 December forecast issued by the Alaska Department of Revenue.

Interwoven into the various energy issues facing the state, and likely other issues, is the challenge posed by climate change. “The issues are interconnected,” Lovecraft said.

The energy report is divided into four sections. The first, on Alaska’s Arctic energy economy, includes an overview of the state’s longstanding budget challenges. Those include what is referred to as the “polar paradox” — the way high oil prices generate more money for the state but, at the same time, increase the cost of living and inhibit development of new businesses.

The second section, on Alaska’s Arctic energy systems, discusses the way energy is used in Alaska, including potential for modernisation and integration of renewables. The third section discusses the need for infrastructure that is resilient to climate change, which is happening faster in Alaska and the Arctic than in almost every other place in the world. That section mentions the disastrous impacts in Alaska last fall of Typhoon Merbok as one recent event that shows the need for climate-adapted infrastructure.

The fourth section discusses Alaska’s role in international affairs.

The report does not recommend any specific policies. However, it does point out the circumstances that legislators and other state leaders will have to address, and it explains how the state got into the current condition.

For example, in summarising Alaska’s oil history — including the transition from a time when Alaska provided a quarter of the US domestic oil supply to the current 4% — the report points out the cost of the decision in 1980 to eliminate the state income tax. “This decision left the state without an annual, relatively stable revenue stream and severed citizens’ personal relationship with the cost of government. Over the years, the boom-bust cycle of global oil production drove various state energy policies,” it says.

The subjects of future reports are yet to be determined.

The new series of reports, with authors from the three university centres in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau, is related to but separate from a series of science-focused reports issued by UAF’s International Arctic Research Center. Those reports, issued periodically since 2019, focus on climate change and the impacts to natural environments and the people dependent on them.


This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

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Drones

War dividend

January 16, 2023

Denmark’s military is investing heavily in drones that can keep an eye on Greenland. Businesses spy an opportunityDenmark’s military is investing heavily in drones that can keep an eye on Greenland. Businesses spy an opportunity

BRIEFING | Denmark’s military is investing heavily in drones that can keep an eye on Greenland. Businesses spy an opportunity.

Going with the floe (📸: Nasa)

KEY FINDINGS
■ Despite their ‘civilianisation’, drones continue to perform “dull, dirty and dangerous” tasks for militaries
■ In the Arctic, drones can fill in where human and materiel capacity fall short
■ As a business opportunity, military drones can provide civilian jobs, training and spur the development of a civilian drone industry
■ Co-hosting military drone centres could help the Danish military defray the cost of refurbishing a key Arctic base


IN THE DAYS before we all checked our smartphones whenever we wanted to know what time it was, our wrists were the first places many of us looked. Though around since the 16th century, wristwatches did not become an everyday item until they were introduced to the military in the 19th century as a way to synchronise movements. Countless other items, from T-shirts to the computer network that is allowing you to read this article — and the businesses that push them — can trace their lineage back to the military.

This is also the case for drones. A type of aircraft the industry prefers us to call unmanned aerial vehicles in order to distance them from their past as a tool of war, today they are just as thoroughly civilianised as sunglasses, and their range of uses off the battlefield is far more widespread than the “dull, dirty and dangerous” tasks they were once assigned by military commanders. Today, drones help all walks of professionals, be they scientists, farmers, firefighters and even insurance adjusters, do their jobs better. Kids of all ages have turned to them as a diversion.

All of this development on the civilian front does not mean drones have lost their significance for militaries. Indeed, as more technology makes its way to the battlefields, they are being employed for more than just killing enemies or keeping an eye on them. The most obvious example of this is Russia’s on-going war against Ukraine, where both sides of the conflict are deploying drones in a number of often innovative capacities.

SEE RELATED: Canada and Russia are looking to deploy surveillance drones in the Arctic

Many of the missions drones are tasked with would be the same in the Arctic as they are anyplace else, and other militaries, such as Denmark’s, are indeed taking a more traditional approach to drone use there by asking them to fill in the gap where it’s human and materiel capacity fall short. As part of its military commitment to Greenland, for example, Copenhagen will spend kr 810 million kroner (€109 million) this year on surveillance drones that will keep an eye on a part of the world its Nato allies — and their adversaries — are increasingly factoring into their strategy-making. That is a drop in the Danish military’s 27.1 billion kroner budget bucket, but, given that it currently only can commit a surveillance aircraft 185 days a year, each additional krone is significant. And four drone-makers are said to be interested in being selected to supply the aircraft and the kit needed to keep them aloft.

Spending that money on relatively cheap unmanned flying hours, the thinking goes, is the most cost-effective way to conduct surveillance in the Arctic. Businesspeople, however, are focused on its multiplier effect: increased military spending spells opportunity for the civilian economy, and, tomorrow, Esbees, a defence and security recruitment firm, will gather lawmakers, military brass and representatives from the industry for a drone conference in the hopes that it will be the first step in establishing an “Arctic drone centre” in Greenland that could provide employment and educational opportunities.

Placing such a centre in Kangerlussuaq airport makes good sense. Ostensibly, this is because the conditions there, according to Esbees, are advantageous for developing and deploying drones.

SEE RELATED: In Swedish Lapland, drone deliveries may soon expand rural health services

Kangerlussuaq, however, will soon be an airport without a commercial reason for being after it loses its status as Greenland’s international gateway once runway extensions in Nuuk and Ilulissat make direct flights from abroad possible, due to happen next year.

The Danish military will continue to operate from Kangerlussuaq, and there are a handful of science outfits that also have activities there, but, without the 500 or so commercial flights that land each year, there will be plenty of unused space that could be used to help pay the 30 million kroner it costs to keep the airport running each year.

Copenhagen, has, for all intents and purposes, promised Washington that it will keep Kangerlussuaq’s runway and hangars fully operational, as part of a commitment to allow American military planes to land there as necessary, something they do on average once a day.

Keeping that promise will not be cheap. In addition to the annual operational costs, it will need to pay to repair the runway and taxiways that have been badly damaged by thawing permafrost which will cost an estimated 1.5 billion kroner. A partial fix would cost half as much but leave a narrower runway.

By letting ambitious businesses harness drones, they could simultaneously prevent war and help Greenland prepare for its future.


FURTHER READING
A two-edged rotor (The Rasmussen)
Drones in the Arctic (Teknologirådet)
Orion UAV can perform ice reconnaissance in the Arctic — CEO (TASS)
There’s a Race for Arctic-Capable Drones Going On, and the United States is Losing (United States Military Academy)
How can Norwegian drones master the Arctic as well as the Danish drones? (Norce)
The Arctic Eats Helicopters, So Russia Is Sending Drones Instead (Forbes)


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This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

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