The standoff with the Danish navy continues in the Arctic today. They're guarding Cairn Energy's oil drilling operations in the Davis Straits which the company revealed today has found gas.
The day has also revealed what a hazardous area this is for drilling and the crew of the Esperanza got to see why locals call the area iceberg alley.
The oil drilling rigs are accompanied by a number of tug boats that must rope and tug icebergs away from the rigs if they get too close. The fire ships were also using hoses against smaller icebergs today and limit the number of icebergs near the drilling sites.
But ‘ice management' techniques used in the area are ineffective against the largest icebergs. In extreme cases rigs themselves might have to be moved to prevent catastrophic collisions.
The risk of icebergs has increased in recent years because several of Greenland's largest glaciers have begun to disintegrate as a result of climate change. An ice island four times the size of Manhattan recently broke off from the Petermann Glacier and will eventually make its way south through Nares Strait into Baffin Bay. Some of these icebergs are likely to be too big to be towed out of the way, meaning the rigs themselves will have to be moved at very short notice.
Trudy Wohlleben, who works for the Canadian Ice Service and discovered the giant chunk of the Petermann glacier that recently broke off, said "The danger is - once they get to where the oil platforms are - if the icebergs are too big then the normal methods used to break up the ice as it approaches the platform will have a lot more difficulties."
Cairn Energy admits that the Arctic poses extreme challenges, and that ‘logistics are complex'. The prevalence of icebergs has deterred other oil companies from attempting exploration here in recent years, but the world's oil giants are watching the Cairn project with great interest. If they are successful this would spark an Arctic oil rush threatening this fragile environment and our chances of beating climate change.
We are campaigning to establish an immediate moratorium on industrial exploitation in the vulnerable Arctic ocean, including oil drilling, and we want to see a permanent, equitable and overarching multilateral agreement that protects the Arctic ocean environment and ecosystems and the peoples who depend on them, along the same lines as the Antarctic Treaty protects Antarctica.