Earlier this week, the Danish government joined Russia and Canada in the jostling over the North Pole. Part of the draw is bragging rights—what northern nation wouldn’t want the North Pole?—but a bigger draw is the oil and mineral-rich sea floor. But the appeal of the Arctic’s oil riches is predicated on the assumption that we’ll be able to access and exploit them. That assumption, so far, seems optimistic, at least at the moment.
Two years ago Royal Dutch Shell poked a toe into the frigid Arctic waters. Yet almost immediately that exploratory campaign started having setbacks. It wasn’t long after Shell’s drilling platform, the Kulluk, ran aground in January of last year that the company decided to put its Arctic plans on hold.