Friday, August 31, 2007

New Allies In Arctic Oil Scramble

Germany And Norway Form Partnership, While Russia Plans Oil Exploration

They all say it’s not a land grab. Really, it isn’t. It’s an oil grab.

The scramble for the oil and other natural resources at the top of the world intensified — quietly — this week, as Norway and Germany announced a new oil exploration partnership, the Daily Telegraph reported today, and Russia confirmed its state-controlled oil companies would do its business in the Arctic, Russian state media reported yesterday.

The neo-colonial overtones were unmistakable last month when Russia planted a flag at the North Pole, even it if was little more than a publicity stunt. Canada decried the “15th Century” tactics, and the United States sent a ship — on a purely scientific mission, it claims — to the Arctic, even as the Senate continues to drag its feet on the signing of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the key treaty that governs territorial claims in the open ocean.

Why is the icy realm suddenly so lucrative? First, global warming is opening up the ice. The extent of sea ice in the Arctic reached a record minimum this year — and a full month ahead of the peak of the Arctic summer free-ice period. Second, as much as a quarter of the world’s untapped fossil fuel reserves are locked under the remaining ice.

With so many questions remaining about the world’s supply of oil — a growing, if fringe, group of “peak oil” analysts believes the world is nearing a period when demand will far outstrip supply — any country that gets a lock on those reserves could wield tremendous power in the coming decades.

Oil grab? Scientific exploration? Call it what you want. It’s the geopolitics of global warming and peak oil, and the game is getting interesting.

Dan Shapley/ News Editor Blog

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