Greenland puts oil and gas plans on ice

On paper, Greenland is one of the most oil-rich countries on the planet, but despite being abundant in such natural resources, this frosty part of the world intends to give oil and gas the boot.

According to the US Geographical Survey, there could be as many as 17.5 billion barrels of oil and 148 trillion cubic metres of natural gas which remain undiscovered lying beneath Greenland at present. To the petrochemical companies, this might sound like a lucky find, but the people of Greenland don’t plan to extract another single drop of oil or pipe another cubic metre of gas.

Greenland goes greener

Greenland exists as one of the world’s largest islands, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, home to just over 56,000 inhabitants – small enough to allow each person to find a seat in Wembley Stadium, with plenty more empty seats to spare.

This step has been taken for the sake of our nature, for the sake of our fisheries, for the sake of our tourism industry, and to focus our business on sustainable potentials.

– The Greenlandic government

Much of the yet-to-be discovered caches of oil and gas lying beneath Greenland’s frozen soil have been hard to reach due to the extreme weather, making extraction plans unviable for some time. According to Our World in Data, Greenland has resorted to hydropower to keep the lights on over the last decade or so in 2019, it was estimated hydropower was providing over 80 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Despite melting ice and rising temperatures, the people of Greenland are unlikely to tap into the oil and gas beneath their feet, especially after fresh elections which resulted in the victory of a political party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, which is an explicitly environmentalist party. The 2021 election itself included a debate about whether future governments should give the green light to rare earth mining – the winning Inuit Ataqatigiit party ultimately won, running on a platform of placing a moratorium on uranium mining.

Cooling off

Shunning a potentially large quantity of oil and gas reserves in favour of greener alternatives is a meaningful course of action for Greenland to take. While the country would undoubtedly benefit financially from the sale of its oil and gas, the incoming government believed the environmental costs outweighed any financial gain.

The Greenlandic government, known colloquially as Naalakkersuisut, issued a statement, saying: “The Greenlandic government believes that the price of oil extraction is too high. This is based upon economic calculations, but considerations of the impact on climate and the environment also play a central role in the decision.

“Against this background, Naalakkersuisut has decided to cease issuing new licenses for oil and gas exploration in Greenland. This step has been taken for the sake of our nature, for the sake of our fisheries, for the sake of our tourism industry, and to focus our business on sustainable potentials.”

While it can be hard to imagine a world in which oil and gas are consigned to the history books completely, Greenland offers a useful example of how countries can actively change course and say no to future hydrocarbon and rare earth extraction. Oil and gas don’t have to be part of the fabric of our energy needs forever, and countries can change tack, so long as they are motivated and the public are onboard with that agenda.

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