Iceland sends mixed signals, goes to the dark side…

Okay, now I’m discouraged. If there was one place on the planet I thought drilling for oil would not happen, I would have pegged Iceland as the place. This is a country that powers itself on renewable geothermal and hydroelectric power. This is a country that, before all others, set a goal of running all its cars and boats on hydrogen and fuel cells. It’s also a country that, historically, has proudly touted its renewable leadership. Just yesterday the tiny island country signed a pack with the United States and Australia to promote geothermal technologies, specifically enhanced or “engineered” geothermal systems. “This international collaborative will bind the U.S., Australia and Iceland to work together to accelerate the development of geothermal energy, bringing this clean, domestic and natural energy to the market in the near-term to confront the serious challenges of climate change and energy security,” said Katharine Fredriksen, acting assistant secretary for policy and international affairs in Iceland’s energy department.

Then I get this notice in my inbox, with the headline: “Potential oil fields being opened for exploratory drilling in the Atlantic Northeast of Iceland.” Wah? Apparently the Icelandic government made a decision in January to open up drilling and is holding a conference next week to talk about the opportunity. “We have high expectations of finding oil in the Dreki area since scientific research has indicated that valuable oil resources may be found there,” said Iceland’s Minister of Industry Össur Skarphédinsson. “We therefore urge all parties interested in new oil fields in northern areas to attend the conference in Reykjavik.”

Is this depressing or what? If there was one country I figured could stick to its guns, I would have said Iceland. Now, it risks being a hypocrite where it was once a leader.

9 thoughts on “Iceland sends mixed signals, goes to the dark side…”

  1. Unfortunately, humanity seems destined to burn all the oil that can be extracted at a reasonable cost (as defined by the price of oil in any time period).

    We may be best off concentrating on burning that fuel efficiently and stopping the drive towards disastrously worse forms of energy (especially coal).

  2. Why shouldn’t they exploit their natural resources? As long as people are willing to pay $100 + per barrel of oil anyone with accessible oil will try and extract it. Don’t be shocked when someone sitting on a gold mine decides to mine the gold. Iceland may be blessed with extensive geothermal resources, but it can’t export those resources.

    What we need to do is scream from the rooftops about the massive opportunities that exist in non-carbon based energy. If the non-oil producing areas of the world spent even a fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars on non-carbon based energy sources that they spend on oil, our consumption of oil would be dramatically lower. These places would be much better off not having to pay what amounts to a tax on their economies for the consumption of energy.

  3. Sad, but easily understood. They (Iceland) themselves are not going to be burning it, but may figure if the rest of the world it going to, why not make some money for their coffers while they can. And, with the West’s oil supply getting the squeeze, and with having to buy our oil from the Middle East, Iceland may even look at this as doing us a favor. In fact, they may have been approached with this argument by our Governments, and told that this is also in our, and therefore their, best national security interests, to help us be less reliant on Middle East oil- for the short run of course, until we can build renewable energy sources;-)

  4. Think of it this way: if a very tiny country with probably not the world’s highest GDP for their size gets an opportunity to earn money from an oil windfall, they can plow it straight back into their RE industry investment.

    And remember, even if oil became unnecessary as a transport fuel tomorrow, over 40% of the oil extracted goes to non-energy uses like plastics and fertilizer; it will still be a valuable resource and people will still want to make money with it.

  5. Well, Iceland has never been a pure environmental haven. Aluminum smelting, not exactly a clean endeavor, is a large and fast growing part of their economy due to the cheap hydro power on offer. And that has meant creating large dams and flooding huge areas for reservoirs.

    And guess what? Reservoir regulated hydro power can often create more greenhouse gas emissions than it saves compared with burning fossil fuels (something quite troubling in hydro-Canada).–from-china-to-norway-new-hydroelectric-schemes-are-supposed-to-help-cutemissions-of-greenhouse-gases-but-will-they-itfred-pearceit-investigates.html

  6. The comment by Derek regarding emissions from hydro reservoirs is interesting and the article referenced is well worth reading. The article reveals a glaring inconsistency in the means of measuring GHG emissions.
    The article suggests that the CO2 and Methane from rotted materials in hydro reservoirs is a huge source of emssions and apparently this is bad news. Yet at the same time, the governments in Canada are helping to fund projects that they politely call biomass projects that burn wood waste – such as the trees killed by the Pine Beetle – claiming that these emissions don’t count.
    They also promote composting and a well operated composter reduces organic waste to CO2, water and a rich compost. That CO2 does not count. If the composter is not turned as recommended the process becomes anaerobic and releases methane – which is much worse … but again – not counted.
    One of the largest sources – never counted, is people exhaling CO2..
    We need some big picture thinkers here. Emissions are emissions, regardless of the source.

  7. There’s a big difference between net positive emissions (like from burning coal or oil) and temporary emissions (like from composting, assuming the compost goes to grow more plants that suck up more CO2). Compost eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers (natural gas-derived, C02 released during synthesis) that destroy soils (releasing C02) and reduces the water requirements for crops (water treatment and transport commonly release C02). If compost is produced and used locally, the C02 savings can easily exceed the CO2 released during composting.

    Burning wood waste is retarded. Pyrolysis makes much more sense, producing a very clean burning gas and incredible soil amendment (terra preta–look it up). Theoretically, it can be net negative C02, though I don’t know if that’s been borne out in practice.

    Methane release is just one drawback of large hydro projects. Concrete is one of the most energy-intensive materials to manufacture and transport. Its centralized nature leads to many losses in transmission and distribution of the energy. They are socially inequitable, leading to a concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a small number of people. They destroy fish and other aquatic life.

    As for Iceland’s drilling decision, it’s no surprise, given the price of crude these days. If they used it to manufacture renewable energy equipment (which is what we should be doing with the bulk of our oil these days) it would make sense, but surely, they will just sell it on the world market. That’s unfortunate.

  8. So how many of those hydrogen cars are running around Iceland? Given the fact that their economy melted since it was all based on paper services with little hard products being made and they ran to Russia for economic support what do you expect them to do? Resources are valuable, they need to be used wisely but they need to be used. Hard currency is a resource too and too many people think it is in endless supply. No poor country has a good environmental record. It’s time to realize that given starvation, economic depression or environmental conservation that most countries will give up the environment first, as will most people. We need to encourage these countries to use their resources wisely to maintain a stable economy and thus be able to provide good environmental research and policies. If you forget the economics you doom the environment. It is just a fact.

  9. Hi Tyler, don’t judge them ( the Islanders ) too hard. They are opening the oil bussiness just because they have to pay back to the russian banks. They are desperate for money. Is as simple as that. In October, their banking system colapsed in the ugliest way possible and no one from the West helped them. Russian Federation did it. … And I don’t think they want to be “owned” by the Russian Federation. It is a patriotic act, beyond all the disapointments that would bring in our minds (i.e. “Island goes to the dark side” … so on). Don’t forget: This nation of only 300,000 souls don’t have the financial leverage of our nation or US … etc. The recession hit them between their eyes. I hope they’ll recover fast and will stay independent. They are a good bunch of people, the only true green nation. For now.

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