Energy Companies Benefiting from Polar Ice Melting
Energy companies are the punching bag of choice for environmentalists, given the alleged impact of fossil fuels on the Earth's climate.
Ironically, it appears the very businesses they blame for melting icecaps stand to benefit, as they now have easier access to the wealth of resources in the Arctic.
According to The New York Times, companies like Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM), Statoil ASA (NYSE: STO) and Total SA (NYSE: TOT) stand to profit from historically-recent developments in the Northeast Passage.
The report highlighted that the China National Petroleum Corporation, Russian energy company Novatek and Total are already building a $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant called “Yamal LNG” on the central Arctic coast of Russia.
The New York Times noted that this is one of the first major energy projects to capitalize on thawing in the Northeast Passage, which opened for regular international shipping four years ago and will be used to ship the gas to Asia. The tankers used to haul the gas will no longer require icebreakers except for the most northerly straits, according to the report.
Another benefit to energy companies, according to the Times, is that the Arctic Sea floor has become increasingly open for exploration. It noted that Exxon Mobil and Russian state oil company Rosneft are already in a joint venture to drill the Kara Sea off the coast of Siberia as well as seven new exploration blocks in the Arctic. Norway is also drilling in Arctic waters, albeit over much less territory, as notes the Times.
Interestingly, as the Times noted, if Russia is able to ship large volumes of gas to Asia, it could put a damper on plans to build LNG export terminals in the more navigable Gulf of Mexico. Naturally, Asian demand for U.S. gas would decline if more Russian gas hits the market.
One caveat to the story is that, despite the changing climate it represents, less fuel will be required to transport energy around the world. For example, as the Times mentioned, Rosneft has negotiated a swap deal with Qatar to fulfill the Middle Eastern nation's contracts with European customers during the summer in exchange for Qatar filling its Asian orders in winter.
The move will save fuel and time for both, given the fact the Arctic is still treacherous in winter and the geographical constraints of each nation.
If others make similar arrangements, a win-win situation could develop for both environmentalists and investors. Thousands of miles can now be shaved from trips using routes that were once impassible and, since fewer icebreakers are needed, even more fuel can be saved.
Humans will always need energy, so the reduced fuel consumption for transporting it may represent a small victory for the former while padding the wallets of shareholders.
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