Clinton leads US oil diplomacy efforts in Greenland

By Eric Watkins
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to push for an Arctic oil spill response taskforce this week even as Cairn Energy PLC prepares for its busiest drilling season ever off the coast of Greenland.

Clinton will travel to Greenland for a meeting of the eight nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US – that lay claim to the Arctic amid growing concerns about the risks to the environment following last year’s Macondo blowout.

“This will be a historic meeting,” said Julie Reside, a spokeswoman at the State Department. “For the coming two years, Secretary Clinton and the other ministers will set in motion negotiations on a new instrument to control potential oil spills in the Arctic.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to join Clinton on May 12 for the seventh meeting of the Arctic Council ministers, who will sign a search-and-rescue treaty and hear a report on how climate change is affecting the Arctic.

“The Arctic Council is in an odd transition place now: it has been decided that they need to make it a more formal institution and give it real authority,” said Buck Parker of Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm specializing on environmental issues.

“They have to make it look like they’re doing something, or other countries that particularly have an interest in how the Arctic is managed with respect to global warming are going to want some say,” said Parker.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh, Scotland-based Cairn plans to invest an extra $500 million to drill up to four wells offshore Greenland this year, one more than in 2010. The company failed to make a commercial discovery there last year.

Cairn has just won approval from Greenland’s government for its 2011 campaign, and it plans to drill up to three wells in the Atammik and Lady Franklin blocks, and one in the Eqqua or Napariaq blocks farther north in Baffin Bay.

That prospect sends shivers up the spines of environmentalists.

“It took BP months to stop Macondo, with a fleet of 6,500 ships, with 50,000 people and a bill of about $40 billion,” said Ben Ayliffe, a senior oil campaigner at Greenpeace International.

By contrast, Ayliffe said, Cairn last year had “14 ships thousands of miles from anywhere, and they’re not the sort of company than can afford to take a $40 billion hit on an oil spill.”

Looks like the time is right for oil diplomacy

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