EU to seek ban on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic

Three polar bears are seen on the Beaufort Sea coast within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library on December 21, 2005. REUTERS/HANDOUT/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library

Oct 13 (Reuters) - The European Union will seek a ban on tapping new oil, coal and gas deposits in the Arctic to protect a region severely affected by climate change, according to a proposal for the bloc's new Arctic strategy published on Wednesday.

The European Commission proposal reflects the EU's efforts to boost its role on the global stage, though it has limited influence in the Arctic. It is not a member of the Arctic Council, the regional coordinating body, though three of its member states - Denmark, Finland and Sweden - are.

"The EU is committed to ensuring that oil, coal and gas stay in the ground, including in Arctic regions," the EU executive's proposal said, while acknowledging that the bloc itself still imports oil and gas extracted in the region.

"To this end, the Commission shall work with partners towards a multilateral legal obligation not to allow any further hydrocarbon reserve development in the Arctic or contiguous regions, nor to purchase such hydrocarbons if they were to be produced."

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, whose country is one of the world's largest oil and gas exporters and excavates fossil fuels in the Arctic, said Moscow would eventually benefit from such a ban due to rising prices.

"If such decisions lead to a certain price volatility, (Russia's economy) wouldn’t suffer that much. That’s because we will reduce production, but will get the prices we wanted," Putin told an energy conference in Moscow.

The Arctic is one of the regions most affected by climate change. It has warmed three times as fast as the planet during the last 50 years, causing the ice covering land and sea to melt, sea levels to rise and permafrost to thaw.


The EU also aims under its new strategy to strengthen research into the effects of thawing permafrost that may put oil fields at risk and threaten to release greenhouse gases as well as dangerous germs locked in the frozen ground.

"Over 70% of Arctic infrastructure and 45% of oil extraction fields are built on permafrost," said the document, which must still be approved by the EU's 27 member states.

Potential mitigation measures could include the development of methods for local cooling and stabilisation and the introduction of tougher building standards, the Commission said.

It also suggested the creation of a monitoring and early warning system to detect germs such as anthrax being released from the thawing ground.

The Arctic Council comprises Canada, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States as well as the three EU states, along with six indigenous organisations, and it acts as a forum for cooperation. The EU has applied for observer status.

To boost its regional presence, the EU plans to open an office in Greenland's capital Nuuk as the United States did last year.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold, additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow Editing by John Chalmers and Gareth Jones

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