Friday, February 13, 2009

Russia, The Arctic, and the New Oil Rush - Global Warming Opens Up New Cold War

It seems thar's oil in that there ice. And also gas. And Russia wants it.

News reports indicate that Russia is working hard to stake a claim in the Arctic seabed. One of its most famous polar scientists, Artur Chilingarov, noted in a recent news conference "the Arctic has a special geopolitical importance for Russia." It also, apparently, may contain as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas. So Russia is planning to build a new Arctic research ship to add to its existing icebreaker fleet and allow it to better exploit these energy resources. Already, in 2007, they conducted an expedition in which Russian mini-submarines "planted the Russian flag" (actually, a capsule containing the Russian flag) on the Arctic seabed. In time, according to Chilingarov, the goal for the Arctic is "expanding the Russian presence there, intensifying research and rebuilding a network of polar stations."

But the real controversy is Russia's plan to send about 50 polar scientists to Spitsbergen, an island to which Norway claims exclusive rights. It seems Russia, the United States, Canada and other northern countries are all in a race to assert jurisdiction over the Arctic, whose oil, gas and minerals until recently have been considered too difficult to recover. However, there is growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping lanes and thus new resource development possibilities.

In 2001, Russia submitted a claim to the United Nations that an underwater mountain range crossing the polar region is part of Russia's continental shelf. The UN rejected that claim for lack of evidence. But Russia seems intent on establishing both a scientific and military presence in the Arctic as the major powers all seek to lay claim to its newly lucrative energy reserves.

"We aren't going to wage a new Cold War in the Arctic," Chilingarov said, though he also added that "Russia will look to protect its interests."

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