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Big potential

Researchers contribute to Nordic project on Arctic resource extraction


By Jeff Green

Nordic countries are looking west and to the research expertise of Memorial University as they look tap into the lucrative resources of the Arctic, widely considered the new frontier of extractive development.

Dr. Arn Keeling, associate professor and graduate officer in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Arts, is the team lead for a contingent of Memorial researchers who are working on one of four new Centres of Excellence recently established by the Nordic countries—Denmark, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden—as well as a group called NordForsk, an organization aimed at strengthening Nordic research. One of the new centres is focusing its research on resource extractive industries—such as mining and hydrocarbons—and sustainable Arctic communities.

“Nordic researchers are tremendously interested in how Canadian governments and companies have promoted extractive development in the North and how northern and Indigenous communities have struggled to gain benefits from such developments while minimizing negative impacts,” explained Dr. Keeling.

He and his colleague, Dr. John Sandlos, associate professor, Department of History, Faculty of Arts, have conduced extensive research on the social, economic and environmental impact of mining and exploration in the Arctic, encapsulating much of their research in their recent book, Mining and Communities in Northern Canada.

“In a sense, we will contribute to the Centre of Excellence by doing what we already do here at Memorial: conduct research into the historical and contemporary legacies of large-scale development for Arctic communities and the socio-economic and political dimensions of remediation of their environmental legacies,” said Dr. Keeling. “The idea is that we would share our findings at various venues so that Nordic researchers can learn from the Canadian context and vice versa.”

Memorial is also fostering and training the next generation of Nordic researchers interested in extractive industries. Both Drs. Keeling and Sandlos will co-supervise a Nordic university-based PhD student.

“The Arctic is widely identified as a new frontier for extractive development.” — Dr. Arn Keeling

As an active member of the University of the Arctic network, Memorial’s faculties of business administration and arts, collaborate with the Extractive Industries PhD Program, which offers bi-annual field courses for PhD students, two of which have been hosted at Memorial. The last was in May 2015 and included a visit by students to Labrador. The next course will be offered this fall on the St. John’s campus.

Memorial is also involved with several key research projects focused on the North. Drs. Keeling and Sandlos are part of Canada-based project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, that’s led to multiple international collaborations. As well, Dr. Anne Dance, a post-doctoral fellow in the Faculty of Arts who is working with the pair, recently travelled to Sweden to work with Nordic counterparts on the Centre of Excellence. She also recently published an analysis of the policy regime surrounding mine remediation in Northern Canada in the Northern Review.

Dr. Keeling says interest in the Arctic has grown substantially. In spite of the downturn in global commodities markets, interest in Arctic resources remains high.

“The Arctic is widely identified as a new frontier for extractive development, as resources in other parts of the world become more scarce and as climate change potentially opens access to previously inaccessible resources,” he added.

“Our work demonstrates that these moves to mobilize Arctic resources in fact builds on a longer history of extraction in the region, a history which offers important cautionary tales in terms of the impacts on local environments and communities, and the long-term legacies such developments can leave behind—and which are still evident.”

Dr. Keeling thinks Memorial’s participation with the new Nordic Centre of Excellence signals the university’s growing expertise in research and teaching related to Arctic social sciences. He says his own faculty has become a “hub” of research focused on various aspects of sustainability in the Arctic.

“At the end of the day, what we really hope for is opportunities for students to gain experience and expertise on issues related to the Arctic and for new channels of research networking and knowledge exchange to be opened—ideally for the benefit of Arctic communities.”

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