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Energy & Resources
Vying for the North Pole

Eight countries are vying for rights to the North Pole. They all want a piece of the icy Arctic region’s untold amounts of oil, natural gas and other offshore resources. In the fall, Denmark became the latest country to throw its hat in the ring.

Currently, coastal nations of the world own the continental shelf up to 200 miles offshore of their own land and can utilize it without international approval. Beyond that point, however, the ocean becomes international domain. But the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is changing that rule, giving ratifying countries 10 years to prove that they have the right to claim areas farther than 200 miles. Denmark ratified the law in mid-November and announced in October that it will spend $25 million to explore and identify areas in the North Pole that may fall within the country’s jurisdiction.

“We’re doing investigations in five areas in order to find out if we have a claim,” says Kai Sørensen, vice director of Denmark’s geological survey. The country must determine if the regions, including the Lomonosov Ridge, located beneath the Arctic sea ice and a portion of the North Pole, are a natural prolongation of the continental shelf of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, both Danish-held territories.

Although more than 130 countries are participating in the convention, there are only eight countries concerned with the Arctic region: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Russia, Finland, Iceland and the United States, all of which have signed. But signing is not enough — only countries that ratify the Law of the Sea can submit a claim to the United Nations.

Russia, which was the first country to ratify the law, has already submitted a claim to the United Nations for review, Sørensen says, and Canada ratified in November 2003. The United States has proposed ratification, but the action is being held up in the Senate, he says. “If two countries claim the same area, bilateral negotiations performed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will decide the outcome,” says Bente Olsen, spokesperson for Denmark’s Minister of Science.

The Arctic is “the great frontier,” says Tom Ahlbrandt, chief of the world energy program at the U.S. Geological Survey, but it has remained largely unexplored because of adverse climate conditions and the lack of appropriate technologies for exploring and mapping the region. “There’s a lot of technological development going on, and these new developments are just increasing at higher latitudes,” Ahlbrandt says.

The country has been working in collaboration with Canadian teams to help remediate the difficulties and costs associated with exploration and development in harsh Arctic conditions.

Laura Stafford

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