What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.
 

Jun. 22 2009 - 7:04 am | 33 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Greenland: the Dubai of the Arctic

So, as of yesterday, Greenland is officially self-governing. As I wrote earlier, this is a process that’s being driven by the hopes of oil wealth that will allow Greenland economic, and eventually political, independence from its colonizer, Denmark.

But how much is the oil wealth, really? No one knows, and not a drop of oil has been found yet. Greenland’s government, using US Geological Survey data among others, says that the mean estimates for its oil reserves is about 50 billion barrels. That number is a bit abstract, so I did some math: The island has about 56,000 people, and if things go as they appear to be going, it will be an independent country some time in the next couple of decades. That means each Greenlander will own about 900,000 barrels of oil.

Compare that to some other oil powers. These are the top three countries in terms of oil reserves per capita:

Kuwait: 39,900 barrels per person
UAE: 37,576 barrels per person
Qatar: 18,071 barrels per person

Yes, Greenland could have 50 times more oil per capita than Kuwait. If you added Greenland to this chart, its bar would reach about eight feet to the right of your computer screen:

picture-9

That figure is so staggering I really can’t comprehend what it might mean. Until World War II, most Greenlanders lived as subsistence seal hunters and fishermen. And many people still live that way. (Yesterday, for Self-Governance Day, the government killed three whales and had an enormous whale feed. More on that in a later post.) But within a couple of decades Greenland could make Dubai look like Calcutta.

Or, of course, it could make Lagos look like Geneva. I had dinner last night with a businessman who told me that he is either on the board of directors or has been on the board of directors of most big companies in Greenland. (It’s a small country, but still…) He said that the oil exploration was actually originally pushed by the Danish government, not by Greenlanders. But then when Greenland’s leaders realized what they were sitting on, the independence movement really took off. And Denmark is disinclined to muscle around a former colony of poor people seeking self-determination. I asked him how he imagined things would turn out if each of his countrymen had the wealth of 900,000 barrels of oil. “I hope it doesn’t happen,” he said. “And no one is thinking about that.”


Comments

4 Total Comments
Post your comment »
 
  1. collapse expand

    If all these new oil billionaires move to California (that’s the place they ought to be, after all), it will make for one hysterical sitcom.

  2. collapse expand

    Why can’t there be an oil boom somewhere nice?? Either bakingly hot, or so damn cold the name is a lie. I’m waiting for the oil boom of Southern France.
    Seriously, I wonder what Greenland will do with all that money. Free everything!!

Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook
 

My T/S Activity Feed

 
     

    About Me

    I'm a freelance writer in Washington, D.C., and a regular contributor to Slate, EurasiaNet and U.S. News and World Report. But before that I was a high school teacher in Bulgaria, an illegal day laborer in Tel Aviv, a wire service reporter in South Dakota, a war correspondent in Iraq and a Pentagon hack. And as often as I can, I try to get myself on a bus or train in a new country, looking out the window and trying to figure out what it all means. (See more at www.joshuakucera.net. And follow me on Twitter.)

    See my profile »
    Followers: 104
    Contributor Since: December 2008
    Location:Washington, D.C.

    What I'm Up To

    Russia and China are building their cyberwar capabilities to threaten the U.S. What is Washington doing about it? Read my story in U.S. News and World Report.