The smallest ocean on earth (although it is bigger than Russia) could be a goldmine in terms of fossil fuels extraction. What was considered before as a sterile area of ice is now envied by the arctic countries sharing the ocean. United States, Canada, Denmark (through Greenland), Norway and Russia are now competing to get access to the resources buried under the icecap.
Indeed, with the ice melting induced by global warming, new sources of fuels can be reached. According to the US Geological Survey, 1.669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 44 billion barrels of natural gas and 90 billion barrels of oil are available under the ice cap. Henceforth, global warming is increasingly seen as an asset for energy companies. The most powerful ones are thus competing in that region to get in control of the larger share of territory, and exploration missions are led by European (BP, Shell, Eni and Total), American (Exxon Mobil) and Russian companies (Rosneft and Gazprom). However, most of the fuel resources are situated in the coastal regions of Siberia and belong to Russia: according to the survey, Russia totalizes 80% of the oil resources and almost all the natural gas available in the region. Moreover, the presence of fuel basins in the international waters arise the problem of jurisdiction: should we consider this area as the “common heritage of mankind” or try to settle an agreement between the arctic countries to share it? The claims of those countries to expand their regional waters have already led to territorial disputes, with nine legal disputes currently opened.
Nevertheless, since 2015, Canada and Alaska have banned oil extraction along their shore. Those measures were taken in consequences of first, the environmental threat that oil and gas extractions represent in this area compared to the benefits it produces and, second, to ensure security and stability in the region. The arctic zone is increasingly transforming into a new ground for the extraction of fossil fuels to the detriment of the environment, as the growing interventions in the region will obviously participate to the melting of the ice and jeopardize the current ecosystem. Alongside this issue, the disputes that occur between the arctic states are a threat to the region’s peace and stability.
– Kraska, J. Arctic security in an age of climate change (2011), Cambridge: University Press.
– Marshall,T. Prisoners of geography (2005), Elliott and Thompson
– “La ruée vers les poles” (2018), Courrier International, (n°1444), pp.30-37.
– Le Dessous des Cartes on the Arctic worlds (2014).