Melting Arctic ice is exposing new, shorter international shipping routes, and it’s also uncovering vast reserves of previously inaccessible oil and natural gas. Eight countries make up the Arctic Council—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States—and each have very tangible interests in what lies beneath the region’s ice and frigid waters. Now, as the WSJ reports, Norway is preparing exploratory drilling operations near a previously disputed territorial boundary with Russia:
“Today, we are opening a new chapter in the history of the Norwegian petroleum industry,” said Tord Lien, Norway’s minister of petroleum and energy. “For the first time in 20 years, we offer new acreage for exploration.” […]Three out of the 10 new licenses were awarded in a previously disputed area with Russia in the southeast Barents Sea, in the wake of a 2010 delineation deal between the two countries, following four decades of disagreement. […]“Gradually opening up new areas is crucial for us to maintain profitable and high-level production up to and beyond 2030,” said Arne Sigve Nylund, Statoil’s head of development and production in Norway.
There are enormous quantities of hydrocarbons at stake here: the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 15 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and nearly a third of its undiscovered natural gas awaits exploration in the Arctic. Unfortunately, the National Research Council pointed out that the United States is wholly unprepared for this new energy frontier, lacking the staff, ships, and infrastructure to support drilling operations, not to mention sub-par icebreaking capabilities necessary for maintaining a naval presence in a region whose strategic importance is quickly rising.But inattention or a lack of preparedness on the part of the United States isn’t going to stop other Arctic nations from looking to take advantage of one of the last great frontiers on this planet. Whether we’re ready or not, the Arctic Ocean is ready for its day in the sun.