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Ancient sandstone, oil futures, and odd sounds from the gearbox

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Pointing across the bay, Christian Knudsen, a geologist working for the Danish geological survey, enthuses over the ancient sandstone cliffs. These cliffs, he says, date from Precambrian times. Christian is in Qaanaaq, part of a survey team looking at many aspects of Greenland’s geology, but right now, they’re focused on implications of that geology for oil and gas potential.

We’re in Qaanaaq for another day because the Tern’s gearbox has been behaving a little oddly. Grant, the captain, wants to be sure that the boat is up to the long crossing to Grise Fiord before venturing further out. He’s getting a second opinion from a local mechanic, Mads, who operates the town’s diesel-fired electricity plant.

West of here, a consortium of oil companies led by Shell is preparing to do some ‘research drilling’ that further assist in assessing the likelihood of oil and gas potential. These companies have all received claim blocks from the Greenland government, allowing them to explore for oil.

Although our trip is partly powered by oil products, and the town obviously relies on an oil product also for its light and heat, the prospect of drilling in these waters is alarming. Watching the constant procession of large icebergs drift by, it doesn’t take too much imagination to picture what might happen if one of them were to hit a drilling rig. And seeing the connection of the local people to these surroundings, the pride they take in continuing a viable hunting culture that stretches back over generations is a reminder of what stands to be harmed.

That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to what the geologists are doing. If we truly want to respect the interests of local people, we might wish them to conserve this area as far as possible, but we also believe that their decisions should be informed. That information includes what lies beneath the local rocks, as well as what lives within their waters.

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