By Mike Hoff When people think of the Arctic, they probably picture Eskimos huddling together in efficiently built igloos. Or maybe the majestic bowhead whale swimming under the ice, looking for krill. Or the furry, goofy polar bear, wandering the ice floes impervious to the chilling Arctic wind. Or the mighty oil supertanker, slicing through the frigid waters unimpeded by glacial ice … As environmental attention drifts from dirty oil to shale gas to the Arctic Circle - $100 barrel of oil will do that – a rare collision of ecologically pristine environment and bludgeoning energy needs are meeting. Whether you see the Great White North as an untarnished habitat, or 20% of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources – or a whole lot of white nothing – everything North will change in the next 5 years, and the Petroleum industry better have its act together to avoid a PR nightmare. Five nations are jockeying for position over an unexpected treasure trove of national wealth, thanks to the powers of Global Warming (or Climate Change, or Inconvenient Truth, or whatever derisive climate debunking term you prefer). And the timetable was recently set by a leaked document from the government of Denmark, who are planning to officially “ask” for recognition of their ownership (via Greenland) of the North Pole by 2014. There’s gold in them thar subarctic hills, and nothing is going to stop Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the U.S. from staking their claim. So there’s a political morass for Big Oil to navigate before the first pipeline is laid – no problem, we’ve done that in more volatile places around the globe. And drilling and shipping petroleum in subarctic conditions is no cakewalk, but it’s “been there, done that”. However, it’s the environmental impact and portrayal that presents the biggest hurtle for Big Oil in the Yukon. Extracting and transporting petroleum products in other inhospitable locals – Siberian, the Middle East, Venezuela, offshore in Norway or Newfoundland – has never faced such scrutiny or criticism. We can blame recent events or left-wing politics or a resurgent GreenPeace – but the fact remains that an unblemished, uncivilized, and previously unreachable 14 million square kilometers of earth is getting ready for her close-up. And it’s not just deep-sea drilling that will leave a footprint : the fabled Northwest Passage will allow easier and more efficient shipping from the North Pole, and around the Arctic Ocean, and just maybe across the planet, as Russian, European, and Canadian ports will allow. Sure there is no indigenous population to disrupt or (God forbid) displace in these northernmost extremes – but there’s also no indigenous population to save from poverty, solicit for environmental impact studies, or build and operate the drilling platforms in the first place. Other than humans, the reality that there are few living organisms in the Arctic is a non-starter – the days when we could drill in the middle of the barren desert/iceberg and expect few would care what micro-organisms are squashed has long past. In fact, the lack of local flora and fauna may actually hurt PR efforts, since this brazenly clean, white territory will enlist sympathy from the Common Consumer, no matter how uninhabitable it is for earthly life. But it’s not too cold for environmentalists, microbiologists, or documentary filmmakers – and those are the people we WANT to mush north. Big Oil should strive to get scientists, politicians, and spin-makers Up There now to battle misinformation and squash the myth of Santa’s backyard – this is not an arboreal rainforest we are trampling through folks! To be completed rude and politically incorrect, if there’s one place on Earth a drunken supertanker captain can sail into the nearest iceberg with little environmental damage, it’s the Arctic Circle. Of course that fact is not going to play down south – anywhere south – and this writer and magazine do not endorse any scorched earth extraction policy, in case any lawyers are reading. But the bar for Ecological Impact vs. Domestic Energy Needs has been set high, no matter which flag your offshore rig flies. Those nations are going to trumpet environmental concerns while putting their hand-out for drilling rights, and its up to Big Oil to not tee-off these socialist leaning countries (i.e. all except the U.S.) and the consumers therein. No-one wants to live there, few visit there, and those that have tried either risk their lives. Traveling to the north pole is like visiting another planet, where your cell-phone had better reach the nearest Starbase. The pot-o-gold under the ice comes at a cost – financially and karmic-ly – and those companies rubbing their hands should tell their PR staff to grab their parka now. Mike Hoff works for the private consulting company, Hussar Innovations