Norway stakes arctic claim nearly to North Pole

Published Apr 16, 2009
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Stoere arctic norway
courtesy Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Norway appears a step closer to claiming more of the 90 billion barrels of oil and gas said to be locked in the Arctic, after the New York based Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf agreed the country controlled the seabed right up to — but not including —the North Pole.

The extra 235,000 square kilometres extends Norway’s potential oil and gas harvest well beyond the 200 nautical mile commercial jurisdiction others with shallow-water continental shelves enjoy.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said the verdict means “a final assessment has been made” on arctic claims that Norway will draft into law.

“This establishes a clear division of responsibility and creates predictable conditions for activities in the High North,” Stoere said.

The judgement might not sit well with other arctic countries: Their more complex geographical allignments with the Arctic mean their applications to the Commission will take more time. Europe, too, has told Norway that Arctic oil and gas belongs to the world and that Brussels would push for international access.

International access is limited and fraught with friction. Russia in 2007 planted its tricolour flag below the Pole, while Canada and Denmark have come to barbs over who owns Hans Islet in the Canadian Arctic. Canada and the United States cannot agree ownership of the Arctic’s Northwest Passage.


Tensions over the right to Arctic resources have been used to justify Norway’s massive recent increase in arms spending and the revival of Russian naval manouvres in the arctic. Global warming is blamed for having opened once-permanent ice and given access to valuable shipping right to the North Pole.

According to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, all coastal states have a continental shelf that extends 200 nautical miles from the coastline. Some countries have continental shelves that extend further than this, like Norway and Russia.

At a recent international conference in Oslo, Stoere told that Russia’s application to the Commission was "completely by the book". He wouldn't comment on applications by other states of the arctic littoral.

“The recommendations provide a basis on which Norway can establish the limits of its continental shelf in the High North,” Stoere said, adding, “This is a precondition for future resource management.”

The ruling starts the creation of a legal order in the Arictic, a precondition for some to invest. The Commission made its recommendations on the basis of documents submitted by Norway in 2006. All the so-called Polar Nations have filed similar requests for legal opinions.

The outer limits Norway establishes on the basis of the recommendations will be final and binding, the Foreign Ministry declared late Wednesday.

3D map (136 KB)

As if on queue, Norwegian national television network NRK 2 began airing a late-night series on Norway as a Polar Nation.


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