Impending challenges to the economic viability of conventional fossil fuel extraction means the US should be open to the possibility of increased Arctic exploration.
Due to the impending depletion of US fossil fuel resources according to the EIA and the International Energy Agency, and the uncertainty over whether alternative energies can commercially expand at the pace fossils decline, a net energy shortfall could face us in coming decades. According to a report by the National Petroleum Council, Arctic exploration, if pursued now could coincide with expected declines in the lower 48 states in America, extending US energy security well into the 2030s and 2040s.
And whilst the recent Tesla home solar battery heralds the welcome attainment of a new milestone in renewable energy technology, the economic viability of current solar storage technology being scaled to replace our enormous fossil fuel infrastructure could still be some way off.
The risk then, of an energy gap between the unsustainability of fossils and the scaling of renewable substitutes is one reason why increased Arctic exploration should not be discounted according to Vicente Lopez Ibor Mayor, chairman of one of Europe’s largest solar energy companies and former Commissioner of Spain’s National Energy Commission.
Furthermore, should nations like Russia continue to proactively exploit Arctic reserves in a precarious energy climate whilst the US remains relatively inactive, it would grant those nations greater ability to continue leveraging energy as a political tool. And given the EU’s relatively low presence in the Arctic, a stronger US presence would strengthen not just American energy security, but that of the Atlantic Basin region.
With friendlier Arctic environmental conditions, the region is for the first time navigable, making energy exploitation possible and arguably a practical necessity. With 22% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and oil in the region, it offers a smooth transition for a world that still finds itself unprepared for the coming energy challenges.
Finally, the case in favor of US Arctic exploration is not to say energy security concerns should trump environmental ones. Nor is it to suggest we should neglect the quest for long-term scalable clean energy substitutes. It is simply to say that such a scenario may realistically well be further away than many anticipate. And in the meantime there should be no overly stringent restriction on energy exploration whilst there is a genuine energy security case for it. After all, good policy making by nature involves striking the right balance between competing legitimate interests. It is in that same vein that a healthier balance between enhancing energy security and averting potential environmental harm must be struck in US policy over the Arctic region.
About the Author:
Vicente López-Ibor Mayor is Chairman of Lightsource Renewable Energy Ltd, Britain’s largest solar energy company. He is a former Commissioner of Spain’s National Energy Commission, former Special Advisor of the European Energy Commissioner, and a member of the Eminent Persons Group on the Atlantic Basin Initiative of the Johns Hopkins University’s Transatlantic Initiative.