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Staking the Ice
America's Arctic Obligations
Map by Lindsey Burrows

Map by Lindsey Burrows

Melting polar ice is thrusting the Arctic Circle into the geopolitical limelight. The frigid region is estimated to contain nearly a third of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its undiscovered oil, and the Arctic countries—Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and, thanks to Alaska, the United States—are eying those resources as they jockey for position. But thawing ice will also expose new shipping lanes, and nations like the United States will have new responsibilities to keep those routes safe for commerce. The WSJ reports:

“The inevitable opening of the Arctic will essentially create a new coast on America’s north,” said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s top officer.

Even though the anticipated change is years away, Navy and Coast Guard officials say the U.S. needs to prepare now to patrol and defend the new waterways—designing ice-resistant ships and expanding Arctic naval exercises—when military scientists predict a new expanse of water freed of ice.

The United States lags far behind Russia in terms of Arctic naval preparedness. Russia has 25 icebreakers, while the United States has just one working polar-class icebreaker, which is nearing the end of its intended lifespan. Securing the funds to expand America’s Arctic fleet won’t be easy—each one costs more than $75 million—but will be necessary if the United States wants to maintain the kind of strategic presence it has taken in other important waters abroad.

Russia is already taking proactive steps to beef up its military presence in the melting Arctic waters. Last month, Putin told his Defense Ministry to “pay special attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic.”

Commercial shipping through the Arctic Ocean is no longer theoretical, either: a Chinese cargo ship has already traversed the northern coast of Russia. Pretty soon, America’s northern coast may be its most important.

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  • TommyTwo

    “Securing the funds to expand America’s Arctic fleet won’t be easy—each one costs more than $75 million”

    75 million dollars each?! Dear God, that’s 50% more than French oil behemoth Total’s entire investment in British shale!


    • Andrew Allison

      “Oil giant Total invests in fracking exploration in the UK, by taking a share in a licence in the Midlands currently operated by a US firm.” ;<)}

    • Kavanna

      Mon Dieu.

  • Andrew Allison

    Correction: The (apparently mistaken) belief in melting polar ice is thrusting the Arctic Circle into the geopolitical limelight. The obvious solution is to extend the 200 mile line to, say, 500 miles and argue about the overlap.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Melting polar ice”

    Deluded Warmist, there was more arctic ice at summer’s high this year than last year, and this year was the sun’s 11 year cycle peak, so the next 5 years will see less radiation and cooler temperatures and even more year around ice. In addition the technology to develop oil in such cold conditions, and then ship it to market through the ice, is uneconomical in the face of US fracking development at $40 per barrel and falling. Even the Russians can see that developing their own oil shale first, is much cheaper than any arctic development that will likely fail.

    • Kavanna

      Thanks for beating me to it. I feel much better now.

  • Boritz

    We’re drilling in ANWR? Bout damn time.

  • Skoptic

    What melting polar ice?

  • Skoptic

    Horizontal drilling and fracking is opening up far more resources in conventional oil fields, and at cheaper cost than expensive polar exploration and production. In Western Canada producers are now fracking the “halo” or fringe of certain formations, like the Cardium or Viking, and producing from payzones less than two meters thick, but extending over 1200 meters horizontally. It is estimated that the fringe of these formations holds up to five times the amount of hydrocarbons recovered from the thicker, previously exploited payzones. These formations are even more productive than when they were first exploited in the 1950s and 1960s. Drilling is getting cheaper and cheaper every year due to better technology and more efficient drilling methods (newer rigs, better trained crews, better drill bits, etc).

  • Icepilot

    There are 3 countries (US, UK, Russia) & 1 type of warship (nuclear submarine) that operate in the Arctic. The rest are nothing but targets.

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