Scientists Discuss Arctic Energy

Scientists Discuss Arctic Energy

Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)


Russian Arctic expedition leader Artur Chiligarov holds a photo showing the Russian flag planted on the ocean floor.

Arctic energy was the topic of discussion at a conference held in the city last week.

The Arctic region, rich in energy and fresh water resources, has become a stumbling point of conflicting interests among different countries around the world. The right to develop and use the Arctic energy sector has been already claimed not only by countries making up the “Arctic Five” (Russia, the U.S., Canada, Norway, Denmark), but also by countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, and others trying to break the alliance.

A steady depletion of natural resources in known and accessible areas has produced the need to find and open new mining sites and shipping routes.

As Viktor Boyarsky, director of the Arctic and Antarctic Museum in St. Petersburg, put it at a conference devoted to Arctic energy: “It is the perspective of natural resource production that makes different countries willing to go to the Arctic.”

Tapani Kaakuriniemy, head of education at Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, said at the conference that the time to rethink the dimensions of discussion had come.

“The Arctic is a sudden surprise. Recently only geographers talked about it, but now it is a politically strategic region,” he said.

In Russia, questions of Arctic energy are being discussed at both governmental and scientific levels. The creation of a legislative base is still underway. In September 2008, the Security Council of Russia wrote an official outline of their plans in the Arctic through 2020, and further into the future. The International Arctic Forum “The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue” was also created under the auspices of the Russian Geographical Society.

Russian claims to the Arctic are based on the assertion that “95 percent of Russian gas and 75 percent of Russian oil resources are concentrated in the Arctic,” as earlier declared by Viktor Olersky, Deputy Transport Minister.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has already declared his intention to turn the Arctic into a Russian resource base, and back in 2007, Russian divers planted a Russian flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole, which other countries regarded as a Russian claim to the entire Arctic territory, resulting in numerous international discussions.

“It is not a claim to territory, just as mounting an American flag on the Moon is not a claim to this secondary planet of the Earth,” Russian diplomats said at the time.

According to some scientists, the importance of the Arctic region for Russia is not confined to its resource value. With the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Russia lost its southern territories, which led to a forfeiture of its global power status. Now this role can be reinstated by means of northern territories. Maria Lagutina, PhD of Political Science at St. Petersburg State University, affirmed at the conference that Russia would become the northern power of the 21st century with the establishment of the Northern Sea Route as a global trade artery.

The Northern Sea Route could potentially become an alternative to shipping via the Suez Canal, safety from pirate attacks and geographic remoteness from conflict zones being the route’s main advantages. Scientists also argued that it would be much shorter than the Suez Canal route, making transportation about two weeks faster. The Northern Sea Route has become accessible due to Arctic ice melting, and is already open for one month a year. Scientists say that global warming will make shipping via this route feasible for a longer period of time in the near future.

There are still many obstacles hindering access to the Arctic, among them environmental issues and complications involving exploitation of the territory, due to the undefined legal status of the Arctic region.

“The legal regime of the Arctic Ocean must be developed with international participation,” Kaakuriniemy said.

Although all countries involved want the main role in developing Arctic energy, scientists agree that no single country is able to harvest the Arctic’s resources on its own; only joint efforts based on a stable legal and economic framework can lead to a positive outcome.

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