US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits the Arctic to get a first hand look at the region’s untapped $900 trillion oil reserves, which does not include natural gas and minerals. The Arctic reserves is a huge prize for the five countries that surround it.
And with climate warming opening up some 46,000 square kilometres (18,000 square miles) a year that had once been bound in ice, the region is expected to burst open, not just with oil exploration but with East-West trade along a more accessible northern route.
Returning from a tour of the Arctic coastline aboard a Norwegian research trawler with scientists and government officials, Clinton told reporters that she learned “many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data.”
“That was not necessarily surprising but sobering,” she said.
The United States wants to see that change managed by the Arctic Council, an advisory group composed of the Arctic’s closest neighbours, even as other countries are drawn to the region for oil, gas and trade.
“A lot of countries will be looking at what will be a potential for exploration, as well as new sea lanes, and are increasingly expressing interest in the Arctic,” Clinton said.
“We want the Arctic Council to remain the premier institution that deals with Arctic questions.”
The council has its headquarters in Tromsoe, a university town of 70,000 people inside the Arctic Circle that is now emerging as a hub for research and increasingly oil and gas exploration of the region.
Despite worries that a thawing Arctic could set off a “great game” among powers seeking to carve out their slice of undersea riches, experts here say that under the Law of the Sea only five countries can lay claim to most of it.
They are Russia, which has about half the Arctic coastline, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the United States.