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Greenland suspends oil exploration because of climate change

Inuit seal hunter atop a melting iceberg
An Inuit seal hunter touches a dead seal atop a melting iceberg near Ammassalik Island, Greenland.
(John McConnico / Associated Press)

The left-leaning government of Greenland has decided to suspend all oil exploration off the world’s largest island, calling it “a natural step” because the government “takes the climate crisis seriously.”

No oil has been found yet around Greenland, but officials there had seen potentially vast reserves as a way to help Greenlanders realize their long-held dream of independence from Denmark by reducing their reliance on the annual subsidy of $540 million doled out by Copenhagen.

Global warming means that retreating ice could uncover potential oil and mineral resources which, if successfully tapped, could dramatically change the fortunes of the semi-autonomous territory of 57,000 people.

“The future does not lie in oil. The future belongs to renewable energy, and in that respect we have much more to gain,” the Greenland government said in a statement. The government said it “wants to take co-responsibility for combating the global climate crisis.”

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The decision was made June 24 but made public Thursday.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there could be 17.5 billion undiscovered barrels of oil and 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off Greenland, although the island’s remote location and harsh weather have limited exploration.

The Interior Department decision will reportedly halt 11 leases spanning about 553,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

When the current government, led by the Inuit Ataqatigiit party, was installed after April’s parliamentary election, it immediately began to deliver on election promises and stopped plans for uranium mining in southern Greenland.

Greenland still has four active hydrocarbon exploration licenses, which it is obliged to maintain as long as the licensees are engaged in exploration. They are held by two small companies.

The government’s decision to stop oil exploration was welcomed by environmental group Greenpeace, which called the decision ”fantastic.”

“My understanding is that the licenses that are left have very limited potential,” Mads Flarup Christensen, Greenpeace Nordic’s general secretary, told weekly Danish tech magazine Ingenioeren.

Denmark decides foreign, defense and security policy, and supports Greenland with the annual grant, which accounts for about two-thirds of the Arctic island’s economy.


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