Thin ice: Access to Arctic oil is not an energy solution
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What does the Arctic Ocean's vanishing ice have to do with Western Pennsylvania? The massive sea melt has the potential to revive tensions between the United States and Russia and to slow America's transition to a cleaner economy. That could keep this region and others addicted to oil longer, while postponing the creation of alternative-energy jobs.
As impassable shipping routes between the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans open up, so does access to vast oil and natural gas reserves. This summer's melt, believed to be one of the greatest in modern times, has increased talk about drilling off Greenland's coast and in parts of the island previously covered by its ice sheet.
The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center says Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a record pace, too. Meanwhile, control of major passageways near the North Pole remain up for grabs.
Russia and Canada claim much of the land. The United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark also have interests in the region.
Even if diplomacy can resolve this jockeying, it's unclear how much governments should represent the interests of multinational oil companies. Such advocacy could increase reliance on fossil fuels and weaken markets for wind and solar power and other forms of renewable energy.
Pennsylvania is counting on strong support for alternative energy to generate jobs and research. An Arctic drilling frenzy also could have a detrimental effect on efforts in the state to do more hydraulic fracturing of shale bedrock -- a big and new source of jobs and tax revenue.
Exploration in the Arctic may be inevitable, but it is not a long-term energy strategy. In the interest of national security, Americans must wean themselves off oil. While it won't happen overnight, government officials should not subvert emerging energy markets by feeding that addiction.
First Published September 10, 2012 12:00 am