Arrr, Thar Be Oil Under Them Icebergs!

Ship and Icebergs Photo

Image source: Getty Images

With the melting of the polar ice caps, countries around the world are finding that new shipping lanes are now opening up, and with that, areas that were previously off limits to exploration and drilling are now accessible. Scientific American reports that countries are now waging war on the high seas and drawing lines of "ownership" to get to these reserves. In 2007, a Russian scientific exploration sent two simultaneous submarines down - one to collect samples, the other to deposit tiny Russian flags on the seafloor. Other nations were shocked, and quickly hit the road to do the exact same thing. The Danish sent out a report stating that the North Pole is in fact Danish. In total, the US, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and Russia are all clambering to lay claims to the new "territory" and the wealth that it might hold. It is estimated that 30% of the worlds undiscovered oil lies beneath the Arctic, and while two small basins will remain off limits to everyone, the rest will be divided among at least these 5 nations.

The rules (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas - UNCLOS) defining property boundaries are rather ambiguous, particularly when a long continental shelf is involved. Countries can lay claim to an area, but then a panel of geologists, geophysicists and hydrographers all must get involved and form a committee to make a ruling. The US never ratified UNCLOS and therefore doesn't feel it needs to submit any paperwork on their legal claims. Nations have until 2009 to lay their respectful claim on the North Pole, and its estimated up to 50 countries will be petitioning for access.

First nations must stake their claim to just exactly where their borders lay. Then they can start figuring out what prize they have just won. Oil, natural gas, and gas hydrates (a potential future energy source once other fossil fuels dwindle) can all be found in the Arctic. Because drilling is so expensive, particularly in this area, no one is investing in establishing new rigs. yet.

"The challenges of drilling at three-mile (five kilometer) depths should not be underestimated either, because existing platforms cannot be used. The ocean floor will have to house recovery complexes and the hydrocarbons may have to be transported to land via pipeline. On an ever-shifting ice pack, only the strongest reinforced rigs or drill ships can survive, and should a spill occur, cleanup would be almost impossible."

Doesn't it seem ironic that our overuse of oil and fossil fuels in general is what led to the deterioration of the Arctic, enough so that it opened up areas of the Arctic to enable us to drill even more oil, use more fossil fuels previously denied and put one more nail on our own coffin? Can anyone else hear the Sirens calling us to Drill, Baby, Drill? :Scientific American
More on the North Pole
North Pole New Shipping, Tourism Destination
In Harpers Magazine, The Battle For the Melting North
Arctic Could Contain 400 Billion Barrels of Oil
Arctic: Ice-Free by 2013?
50/50 Bet North Pole Melts Away This Summer

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