Arctic Anxiety: The War for Energy Resources Is On

Posted: Mar 31, 2011 10:24 AM
Rich in resources, the race for the North is on.


While the ultra-cool “Climaterati” ponder the fate of polar bears and glaciers over cappuccinos at U.N.-sponsored climate change conferences in cushy Copenhagen and Cancun, there are other serious matters at hand in the High North.

It turns out the Arctic is heating up on the political, economic and security fronts, too.

According to observers, the ice cap that covers much of the Arctic region is disappearing -- the size and thickness of the Arctic sea ice that envelopes the North Pole is decreasing, following a more than three-decade-long trend.

In fact, this year, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which receives some U.S. government support, the “extent” of Arctic ice, at a little over 5 million square miles, is at the lowest level since 1979, when satellites first started collecting data.

These changes are exposing parts of the globe that were previously inaccessible to a number of military, transportation or commercial activities, including the always-important exploitation of potential energy resources.

In the April issue of Townhall Magazine, contributing editor Peter Brookes offers his analysis of the international battle for control of the resources buried at the North Pole. "Arctic Anxiety" reveals Russia's tactics, including a 2007 act perhaps best suited for a Hollywood movie: Two Russian mini-submarines planted a titanium flag on the Arctic seabed near the North Pole at a depth of nearly 14,000 feet, claiming for Moscow a territory roughly calculated to be one-half the size of Western Europe.

Read all about the race for these important natural resources -- and the moves by many of our "allies" -- in the April issue of Townhall Magazine.

Here are some excerpts from "Arctic Anxiety":

By some estimates, the seabed at the top of the world may hold large amounts of Mother Earth’s yet-to-be-discovered natural resources, particularly oil and natural gas deposits.

As a result, the countries that ring the North Pole such as the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark are clamoring to claim the new world being exposed by the receding sea ice as well as the shipping lanes that might open up across the Arctic Ocean.

While energy exploration and drilling in parts of the Arctic are not new, as evidenced by U.S. exploitation of the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s North Slope starting in the 1960s, access to the deeper waters of the Arctic Ocean promises some pleasant surprises.

For instance, in 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) asserted that previously inaccessible areas of the Arctic seabed may be home to the “geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth.”

Indeed, based on its scientific research of the last few years, the USGS estimates the Arctic’s offshore regions may hold up to nearly one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas.

Specifically, the Arctic (generally the area above 66 degrees north) may have as much as 90 billion barrels of oil, nearly 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and more than 40 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

When compared with data that shows there may be more than 1 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves and more than 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas globally today, the possibilities the Arctic presents as a new source of energy is not too shabby.

Actually, by some accounts, Alaska’s North Coast has the potential to be the richest oil field in the Arctic. It may also hold the High North’s largest gas field, rivaled only by the potential of some projected Russian finds.

Adding to the sense of a 21st century Gold Rush, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources reportedly believes that the parts of the Arctic -- claimed by Moscow, naturally -- hold oil reserves twice the size of Saudi Arabia’s, currently the country with the world’s largest known deposits of “black gold.”

While all the primary Arctic nations have promised to allow international diplomacy and modern science and the tenets of international law resolve High North issues, it is unclear at this time whether that objective might be undermined by the forceful introduction of raw economics, sovereignty or nationalism into the issue at some point.

Clearly, the United States has geo-strategic stakes in the Arctic. These expanding concerns include potential new energy sources to new transportation links to new borders, all of which could affect our national, homeland and economic security. As such, we need to be giving significant thought to how to best protect and advance our national interests in the Arctic. Now is clearly the wrong time for getting cold feet for American action way up North on the Earth’s final frontier.

Order today to read the full analysis of our Arctic energy options in the April issue of Townhall Magazine.