Development in the Arctic: Economic opportunities, environmental and cultural challenges - Page 2


Figure 16. Industrial development in the Arctic. The Arctic has been opened up for increased exploration of petroleum, gas and mining activities. The Barents Sea, the Mackenzie Valley in Canada and the Alaskan North Slope, are the areas of chief interest at the moment. Notice that the shipping routes in Northern Canada are not open today because of ice. The Northern Sea Route north of Russia is partly open today.

Figure 17. The largest economies in the Arctic belong to Alaska (US) and Russia, mainly because of mining and petroleum activity. Regions that are still heavily dominated by more traditional subsistence activities, such as hunting and fishing, in Greenland and in Northern Canada, have a much lower gross domestic product (GDP). Similarly, reindeer herding in Russia and Scandinavia is of substantial importance to the livelihoods and lifestyles of reindeer herders like the Saami and the Nenets but does not contribute greatly to the GDP of these regions.

Historical development of oil wells in northern Canada
Some areas, like northern Scandinavia, the Mackenzie Valley region in Canada and the North Slope of Alaska, have seen increased development primarily in the past few decades.


Figure 18. Exploratory oil wells: Oil and gas exploration has increased in the Mackenzie Valley region of Canada.  Current roads (2000) are indicated on all maps to facilitate map reading only. There were very few roads in place prior to 1960.

Figure 19. Existing and planned development in the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, Canada. (Courtesy of Cizek and Montgomery, 2004;

Cumulative impacts of development in the Arctic
Development in the Arctic is not limited to oil and gas exploration. Mining operations and hydro power development, power lines, windmill parks and military bombing ranges have also been developed across the past decades. Growing affluence allows ever-greater numbers of tourists to visit remote areas.

All of these activities require infrastructure that produces additional impacts through fragmentation, direct habitat destruction, and the provision of corridors for people to reach new areas.
For many indigenous peoples and organizations, revenues from development are often not made available to them, or they become entirely dependant upon them, which, in turn, raises serious problems if companies leave or new, more damaging exploration is planned (NRC, 2003).

Figure 20. Cumulative impacts of development in the Arctic.
Overview of the pressure on biodiversity, including reindeer and caribou, from infrastructure development.
Note that most of this development is less than 100 years old, with little impact in the Arctic. (Source,


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