Thin ice


What does the Arctic Ocean's vanishing ice have to do with northwest Ohio? The massive sea melt has the potential to revive Cold War-like tensions between the United States and Russia, and to slow America's transition to a cleaner economy. That could keep this region and other parts of the country addicted to oil longer, while postponing the creation of green-energy jobs.

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As previously impassable shipping routes between the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans open up, so does access to vast oil and natural gas reserves. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic may hold nearly a quarter of what remains of those resources.

This summer's melt, believed to be one of the greatest in modern times, has increased talk about drilling off Greenland's coast and in parts of the island previously covered by its ice sheet. That sheet broke its seasonal record for melting on Aug. 8, with four weeks of melting left.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center says Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a record pace too. Meanwhile, control of major passageways near the North Pole remain up for grabs.

Russia and Canada claim much of the territory. The United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark also have interests in the region. China has an icebreaker and Arctic research stations; it seeks a stronger foothold as well.

Even if diplomacy can resolve this jockeying, it's unclear how much governments should represent the interests of multinational oil companies -- such as Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron -- that hold licenses to drill off Greenland's coast. Such advocacy could increase reliance on fossil fuels, and weaken markets for wind and solar power and other forms of renewable energy.

Ohio and Michigan are counting on strong support for alternative energy to generate jobs in private industry and academic research. An Arctic drilling frenzy could have a detrimental effect on these states' efforts to promote more hydraulic fracturing of shale bedrock -- a potentially big source of jobs and tax revenue.

Exploration in the Arctic may be inevitable, but it is not a long-term energy strategy. This year's drought, which extended into the Great Lakes region, has been accompanied by Western wildfires and violent storms. These phenomena have strengthened the case for the impact of man-made climate change.

In the name of national security, Americans need to continue to wean themselves off oil. That won't happen overnight. In the meantime, government officials should not subvert emerging markets by feeding that addiction.