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Arctic Circle oil rush puts U.S. against Russia to exploit natural resources while ice melting

Dave Masko's picture

NEWPORT, Ore. – It’s not unusual to spot ships that can travel to the the top of the world here at Newport’s NOAA Marine Operations Center Pacific; but what’s surprising is how the U.S., Russia and six other nations – that met at the Arctic Circle Summit in Greenland May 12 – are in a “battle for control of the oil area beneath the Arctic’s icy waters,” reported British media Friday; while referencing WikiLeaks cables citing a debate over who gets Arctic oil.

The Independent and other British newspapers cited WikiLeaks cables that “quotes the head of the Russian navy saying that ‘one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention.’ As so often before, this new military build-up is all about oil.” Meanwhile, Greenpeace countered with a statement that “we need our political leaders to make a final push to get us off oil by investing in the clean, cutting-edge technologies that can power our economies without destroying the environment or sparking tension amid the icebergs and glaciers of the High North."

Also, the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than expected and could raise the average global sea level by as much as 1.6 meters this century, states a new study by the international Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program in one of the most comprehensive updates on climate change in the Arctic. Polar bears and other Arctic wildlife are now fighting for their lives, the report adds. The full report was delivered to foreign ministers of the eight Arctic nations May 12,” stated The Associated Press.

NOAA’s ships in Newport show America is ready for Arctic Circle exploring

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) ship “R/V Bell M. Shimada” is dubbed “the most technologically-advanced fisheries vessels in the world,” touts a NOAA fact sheet that also notes how the Shimada and its sister ships can reach the Arctic Circle from its homeport at Yaquina Bay in Newport. In turn, the NOAA fleet Pacific can cruise up the Pacific Northwest coast to Alaska and then to the Arctic Circle “for oceanographic research” with its “advanced navigation systems, acoustic and sonar technologies and special stealth technology.”

Greenpeace and other environmental groups state that because the melting of the polar ice has been disastrous for wildlife, it will open-up new opportunities for America, Russia and other nations “to exploit Arctic Circle natural resources.”

In fact, there's regular TV and Internet programs that spotlight Arctic Circle polar bears floating on melting ice and then drowning; "while beneath the Arctic's icy waters one of the largest oil reserves in the world awaits either the U.S., Russia or Greenland to claim it. Do they care about the polar bears?" adds Greenpeace.

Recent reports by the BBC, The Independent and London’s Telegraph newspapers and its online news organizations point to the “WikiLeaks cables” that show “Washington has an eye on the eventual independence of Greenland, a sparsely populated territory which functions as a protectorate of Denmark, and is looking at ways to strengthen its standing in the territory.”

Greenpeace concerned about U.S. and Russia fighting over Arctic oil

"Instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it," said the Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe during a BBC World News report May 13. "They're preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place."

BBC and other British media also reported that “Russia has the largest amount of Arctic coastline, and has a fleet of military and civilian icebreakers used on routes that traverse the Arctic. While other Arctic countries have small villages or research stations in their far northern reaches, Russia has major cities such as Murmansk inside the Arctic Circle.”

The recent media reports also note who “the world began to take note of Russia's Arctic ambitions when a Russian expedition planted a titanium Russian tricolour in the seabed at the North Pole in 2007. One of the WikiLeaks cables showed that a top Russian politician told US diplomats that a mission to the North Pole led by the Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov was ordered by Vladimir Putin's United Russia party."

The mission, and Russia's increasingly belligerent rhetoric over the Arctic, caused concern not just in Washington but also in other countries with claims to the region, stated a BBC report.

Summit in Greenland focuses on one of the world’s largest oil reserves at the top of the world

Continental shelves beneath the retreating polar ice caps of the Arctic “may hold almost double the amount of oil previously found in the region,” scientists stated in a CNN report from 2009 that also pointed to “U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic may be home to 30 percent of the planet's undiscovered natural gas reserves and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil.”

As the eight Arctic nations met in Greenland May 12, cables released by WikiLeaks – and widely reported by British and European media on Friday -- gave insight into the battle for control of the world's least explored region and the resources that lie beneath its icy waters.

The WikiLeaks cables show that “Washington has an eye on the eventual independence of Greenland, a sparsely populated territory which functions as a protectorate of Denmark, and is looking at ways to strengthen its standing in the territory.

With Greenlandic independence glinting on the horizon, “the U.S. has a unique opportunity to shape the circumstances in which an independent nation may emerge," said one WikiLeaks dispatch from US diplomats in 2007, that also quoted an official stating: “We have real security and growing economic interests in Greenland."

The London based Independent also reported on Friday that “the presence of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, at the Greenland summit shows the importance that countries are attaching to the region as the polar ice caps melt further.”

Clinton, speaking in Greenland May 12, said that US ratification of a UN treaty governing the status of seabed’s under international law was "overdue.”

BBC reported that “Russia and other Arctic nations have signed the treaty, but the status of most of the Arctic territory is murky. This week's summit in Greenland will pass the first agreement ratified by all the Arctic nations, which will focus on search and rescue missions in the region.”

Clinton taking the lead on who will get Arctic Circle resources

At the same time, BBC World News featured a special PBS TV report May 13 about the U.S. participation at the Arctic Circle summit in Greenland.

The BBC and other London based media reported that “Hillary Clinton became the first US Secretary of State to attend a meeting of the Arctic Council May 12. Other council members are Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.”

"The melting of sea ice will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves," Clinton said.

"We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the arctic environment and ecosystem," Clinton added.

The Telegraph also reported on its Internet news site that “Clinton also cited climate change research showing that so-called ‘black carbon’ – soot created mainly by the burning of agricultural waste and wood-fired ovens in the developing world – was diminishing the Arctic sea ice at an unprecedented rate.”

This Arctic Circle summit in Greenland was presented so “senior diplomats and government representatives were due to sign an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement that covers 13 million square miles of ocean. It would be the first binding international agreement among the council, which was founded in 1996,” the Telegraph reported.

Arctic Circle and planet in trouble due to global warming

An international study released last week projected that world sea levels “could rise up to 1.6 meters over the next 90 years.”

The BBC and other British media also reported that “these projections have prompted calls to increase action to reverse climate change, but have also raised speculation about how the resources of the Arctic can best be retrieved. The region is believed to hold about a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves, and environmentalists say the thought of such riches is leading the Arctic countries to lose sight of longer-term climate issues.”

"This isn't the 15th century," said Peter MacKay, Canada's Foreign Minister, at the time. "You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say, 'We're claiming this territory'," he said in a BBC broadcast report from Friday.

Another WikiLeaks cable shows that the Norwegian Foreign Minister sarcastically thanked his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for making the purchase of new fighter jets "so much easier to justify... to the Norwegian public."

Arctic Circle contains more than just oil and polar bears

“Scientists have identified what may be one of the last northern refuges of Neanderthals, a spot near the Arctic Circle in Russia with artifacts dated to 31,000 to 34,000 years ago,” states a May 13 AP report.

“Stone tools and flakes found there look like the work of Neanderthals, the stocky, muscular hunters who lived in Europe and western Asia until they were replaced by modern humans, researchers reported May 12 in the journal Science.

“The site lies along the Pechora River west of the Ural Mountains, 150 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. Researchers dated it from animal bones and sand grains. Nobody has found any human bones or DNA that could provide stronger evidence that Neanderthals lived there, report the scientists, from Russia, France and Norway.

The artifacts had been collected during various expeditions. Neanderthals first appeared more than 200,000 years ago. They died out sometime after modern humans arrived in Europe, which occurred some 40,000 to 45,000 years ago,” the AP reported.

Richard Klein, a Stanford University professor of anthropology, said the artifacts do look like the work of Neanderthals, but that it’s also possible they were made by modern people instead.

Meanwhile, British media analysts state “there’s a storm brewing over who will control Arctic Circle oil and Russia won’t give up another Alaska like it did back when the U.S. got that land and oil in a good deal.”

Image source of Arctic polar bears on melting ice: Wikipedia


Submitted by 60South (not verified) on
Your statement "NOAA’s ships in Newport show America is ready for Arctic Circle exploring" needs a closer look. The US's fleet of icebreakers is in sorry shape. The NOAA vessels you mention are for surveys and fisheries, not polar exploration. I doubt any of them are ice-hardened, much less icebreaker-class vessels. Many of them are decades old and needy. While this does not preclude them from doing Arctic surveys, we should make a distinction between summer-time survey cruises in ice-free waters and any kind of work winter or ice-heavy seas. This especially applies to rescue, icebreaking, spill-cleanup, and other national security activities. Looking at the US's real fleet of icebreakers suitable for this kind of duty, there are few. The USCG Polar Sea and Polar Star are very old and often break down. The USCGC Healy is the newest and perhaps our best resource for polar duty. (Have I forgotten any?)

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