From: Jan M. Olsen, Associated Press
Published July 18, 2006 12:00 AM

Greenland Opens New Round of Concessions for Oil Exploration in Fragile Arctic

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Several of the world's largest oil companies hope to tap into possible offshore oil and gas reserves as Greenland opened a new round of concessions Tuesday for exploration licenses in the fragile Arctic region.


Eyes of an oil-thirsty world have turned to the shores of the semiautonomous Danish territory amid rising fuel prices, Mideast instability and concerns over future supplies.


The Greenland government hopes to make big gains from any reserves found in its icy waters, but environmentalist say oil exploration there could damage a sensitive region already under threat by global warming.


"We know for sure there is oil but we don't know how much exactly and whether it can be profitable," said Joern Skov Nielsen, manager of Greenland's Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, ahead of the three-day meeting in Ilulissat, on the giant island's west coast.


Speaking by telephone, Skov Nielsen declined to say which companies were attending the meeting and what conditions the Greenland government would put forth for exploration in the Disko Bay -- the area being opened for the current round of concessions.


"All I can say is that the top 15 biggest in North America and Europe are here," he told The Associated Press.


The fact that those attending the meeting have bought seismic data collected in the Disko-Nuussuaq region, was "an unmistakable sign of interest," Skov Nielsen said. The deadline for bids is Dec. 15.


Exploration in one of the most remote corners of the globe is no easy task. Bidders should be able to tackle rough weather and ice while avoiding damage to Disko Bay's fragile ecosystems.


Skov Nielsen said an environmental impact assessment will performed in the area to identify possible consequences of oil exploration, but environmental activists said that was not enough.


Tarjei Haaland of Greenpeace Denmark said it was "insane" to even think about oil exploration in the sensitive environment.


"We all know that it's an extremely difficult region to work in and if there is an oil disaster in the area, it can be harmful," Haaland said. He suggested money devoted to oil exploration would be better spent on developing alternative fuels.


Oil exploration off west Greenland started in the 1970s but stopped after five failed drillings. Activities resumed in 2001 off Nuuk, the Greenland capital. Canadian company EnCana last year became the first company to win a license for offshore oil and gas exploration off Nuuk.


In 2008, Calgary, Alberta-based EnCana is expected to start drilling in believes has reserves ranging from 400 million to 1.2 billion barrels of oil.


Source: Associated Press


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