Aug 22 2019

Erik Thorvaldson’s Big Swindle

I suppose as the resident Viking (I’m a quarter Danish, that’s why I have the Ben Franklin seal of ‘Whiteness’ you turkeys which is proof enough that not every idea is a good one) I have to say something about Greenland, and Denmark for that matter.

Denmark is basically a flat swampy part of Germany that nobody really cared about (certainly not the Germans). It is attractive and wealthy only in comparison to more fjordy parts of Scandinavia while there are many parts of Germany with much more potential. Today their best known product Internationally is Butter. You should try some, it’s really good.

But most parts of Scandinavia are depressingly isolated except by sea and while Vikings are impressively piratey and fierce it’s not really condusive to developing advanced political structures like Kingdoms and Empires and so for a time the Danes were the Top Dogs by virtue of organization.

It’s during that period that the Viking age of Exploration and Expansion occured and all of a sudden there were Vikings everywhere. Normandy? That’s Norse Man’s Land and it is certainly arguable that the Battle of Hastings was nothing more than a squabble between 3 rival Viking Princes. It’s the Harolds, Hardrada of Norway and the Danelaw and Godwinson of the (Danish) Anglo-Saxons that confuse you while William, the Viking of Norse Mand’s Land in France conquered the island. Vikings sacked about every city that was worth it from Paris to Moscow and were employed as Palace Guards by the Byzantines (kind of a bribe really).

What made this possible was the Longship, a marvel of design that is easily constructed, incredibly seaworthy (well, for the time, you might find the accomodations a bit Spartan today), light, and shallow drafted. That’s the real secret of their success, they could sail up rivers like a canoe and if they couldn’t be portaged you just build a new one. Easy peasey.

But also ocean and in 874 or so (CE) Garðarshólm (named after Garðar Svavarsson who kind of bumped into it by accident) became a thing and it’s not as bad as all that. You have hot springs, you have fish.

But it’s a tough neighborhood and six months of darkness can make you cranky. After being booted off Iceland for being a big dick who buried his neighbor’s farm in a landslide Erik Thovaldson took his boat and sailed west for a bit and basically discovered what is now North America.

Not discovered in the sense that it was utterly uninhabited because Native Americans had been there for thousands of years, but new to ignorant Europeans.

So anyway, Vineland, a place of milk and honey. I’ve tasted Newfoundland wine and found it not terrible, if unremarkable. Evidence of Viking settlement shows they persisted for a time and then assimilated or perished.


From 986, Greenland’s west coast was settled by Icelanders and Norwegians, through a contingent of 14 boats led by Erik the Red. They formed three settlements—known as the Eastern Settlement, the Western Settlement and the Middle Settlement—on fjords near the southwesternmost tip of the island They shared the island with the late Dorset culture inhabitants who occupied the northern and western parts, and later with the Thule culture that entered from the north. Norse Greenlanders submitted to Norwegian rule in 1261 under the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397). Later the Kingdom of Norway entered into a personal union with Denmark in 1380, and from 1397 was a part of the Kalmar Union.

Yeah, the Kalmar Union is kind of complicated so we won’t deal with it here, my point is that Greenland is basically an icy rock with a certain strategic value and some mineral resources which have heretofore been buried under Glaciers over a mile thick. It’s so tough it killed off the Vikings for the most part and the only thing that makes it marginally more attractive today is that GLOBAL WARMING IS BURNING OFF THE GLACIERS AT AN ALARMING RATE!

But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk about Economics.

Seward’s Folly may seem a bargain at 2 Cents an acre but while it has potential it is not quite the bonanza some people promote.

The White House Saw Riches in the Arctic Refuge, but Reality May Fall Short
By Henry Fountain and Steve Eder, The New York Times
Aug. 21, 2019

When the Trump administration first pushed to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, it predicted that drilling would generate a windfall for the federal Treasury: $1.8 billion, by a White House estimate.

But two years later, with the expected sale of the first oil and gas leases just months away, a New York Times analysis of prior lease sales suggests that the new activity may yield as little as $45 million over the next decade. Even the latest federal government estimate is half the figure the White House predicted.

The lofty original projection was just one element of a campaign within the administration to present in the best possible light the idea of opening the refuge’s coastal plain after decades of being stymied by Democrats and environmentalists, according to internal government communications and other documents reviewed by The Times.

Opponents of exploration have said the 19-million-acre refuge, one of the largest expanses of pristine land in the United States, could be forever damaged in pursuit of oil that would bring little benefit to American taxpayers.

The administration, bent on proving them wrong, turned to the federal bureaucracy to help make its case, the records show.

Even before plans to allow the lease sales were completed and approved by Congress in late 2017, the Interior Department pressed for new — and possibly rosier — assessments of the prospects for oil discoveries that would entail field research in the environmentally fragile refuge, according to the documents.

In revising a draft plan for the new assessments, officials played down evidence that the refuge might not have much oil, deleting references to disappointing wells nearby.

They also pushed scientists to provide studies and other information so quickly that some expressed concern over the speed of the process, according to the documents, which were obtained through public records requests by Trustees for Alaska, an environmental law firm that has opposed oil exploration in the refuge.

An Interior Department spokeswoman said the agency “absolutely” respected the work of its scientists and staff, and had not interfered with it in any way. She said negative information about nearby wells was not pertinent to prospects in the refuge.

When the Interior Department drew up plans in 2017 to update assessments of the potential oil reserves in the refuge, officials stripped out disappointing findings about test wells drilled just outside the area. The details were included in a draft but removed from the final plan, a comparison of the documents showed.

In response, the Interior spokeswoman noted that only one well had been drilled in the coastal plain, and that only one seismic survey had ever been done. “Other wells and geophysical studies do not apply to the coastal plain,” she said.

Even with all of the discussion about the refuge, major oil companies have been relatively quiet about whether they intend to bid. Some people in government and in the industry attribute this to a lack of interest based on the companies’ own data-gathering over the years. Others say the companies are probably just trying not to tip their plans to competitors.

The question will not be answered, of course, until bidding begins.

“Will it be a stupendous billion-dollar bid? Probably not,” said Larry Persily, a former federal gas official responsible for Alaska, who noted that there was no shortage of oil or gas reserves now. “Maybe it would be good to have the lease sale and find out if there is any interest,” he added. “And we can move on.”

I’ll note this has been a mainstream Republican policy for decades, not the fever dream of Unindicted Co-conspirator Bottomless Pinocchio.

You can have a mountain of gold and if it costs more to get to Market than you can receive in legal tender (say Ur Cow Tokens for example) you’re just like the retailer who takes a loss on each purchase but thinks they’ll make it up in volume. Watch some Gold Rush, serious dudes like Parker, Tony, and Rick know it’s all about controlling the margin of what it costs to get and what people will pay for it.

Greenland could be sitting on an ocean of Oil as big as the Atlantic (it isn’t, we know that much geology) but it won’t matter a bit going forward because Oil (if you can’t produce it for about $10 a Barrel) is not cost competitive with Solar and Wind.

Unless you really are counting on the incineration of the Earth turning all those fjords into Golf Courses.