The Inuit Premier of Greenland is passionate in defending the need to develop his country's oil and gas potential - a stance that puts him at odds with Canadian Inuit groups, which have tried to block offshore drilling near their communities.
Kuupik Kleist was one of the speakers at a two-day summit of Inuit leaders who met this week to discuss resource development. Mr. Kleist said Wednesday that there will be oil and gas extraction in and around Greenland and the Inuit want to dictate its terms. Here is what he said in response to questions from reporters; the questions have been edited and the answers trimmed.
Many Inuit and environmentalists in Nunavut argue that any oil and gas exploration could damage a fragile ecosystem. How do you respond to those concerns?
We have a co-operation with the Canadian government on the issue of protection of the environment [as it relates to]the oil industry. And we have that co-operation because of the Canadian experience, which we don't have … both within the mineral sector and within the oil industry for years. And what we're looking at is to gain from the experiences, not only from Canada but also from Norway, for instance, which is regarded as an upscale developer of technology.
I have had a dialogue with the Minister for the Environment in Canada who was, in the outset, very concerned about the exploratory drillings off the Greenland west coast. What happened during our dialogue was that now Canadian employees are on the drilling sites off the west coast of Greenland to learn about security.
Do you feel that the oil and gas industry is safe?
You can never ensure 100 per cent that nothing will happen. You have to be honest facing the risks. … [But]companies from the outside have been exploiting natural resources in the Arctic area for centuries now. The Inuit didn't. Now it's our turn. It seems like now gradually the peoples of the Arctic are taking over powers then suddenly it becomes much more dangerous, risky and what else you might come up with. You see the environmental groups coming now to the Arctic area and trying to hinder activities conducted by indigenous governments in the Arctic. Why didn't they do that, like, 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even just 15 years ago? Now, with technology developed, it's much safer today than it was before.
Do you think the unrest in Libya and other places in the Middle East will put even more focus on oil exploration in Greenland?
Of course. We are now a full part of the global economy. We cannot hide away or shy away from looking at what's happening on the rest of the globe. We are a part of it and we need to face that and we have to take precautions according to what happens on the market.
The Greenland ice shelf is melting at an increasing rate. This presents challenges, but does it also hold some potential?
It's not the fault of Greenland that the ice is melting. Nobody believes that by tomorrow the need for fossil fuels will disappear just because of the ice melting. If Greenland should stay away from exploiting its mineral resources, some other place on the Earth will do it, that's for sure. But we are doing it under the strongest precautions, we are sticking to best practices, we are sticking to the best available technology and you cannot be sure that the rest of the world would do that.
Is there potential for confrontation between companies and Inuit groups for control of resources?
Of course. That's not new. That's always existed. The change that's been going on is that now we have the insight, we have the powers, we negotiate ourselves. We don't allow federal governments just to hand over Inuit lands to companies to exploit the mineral resources. It's in our hands. We need to face all of the challenges that are connected with that kind of activity. The difference is that it's now us sitting at the end of the table, and of course the confrontations, wherever they might be, we need to face them.