Europe’s arctic oil, gas drive begins

Published Nov 21, 2008
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The European Commission has officially called for cooperation with Norway and Russia — who are not members of the European Union — in coordinating its drive to secure the Arctic’s hydrocarbons and fish wealth.

The Commission has proposed a ban on fishing in the Arctic until rules for its exploitation can be put in place and it seemed to hint jointly plotted economic zones were required to carve up oil and gas wealth.

“The EU has to state its position concerning a unique region of strategic importance which is located in its immediate vicinity,” a new report titled The European Union and the Arctic Region said.

It also said, “It is time for the EU to clearly assess its interest and develop a holistic and systematic Arctic approach.”

The report said new intiatives will be aimed at cooperation with the Arctic states in which Sweden (cut-off from the Barents Sea by Norway and Finland) and Denmark (remotely governs the Arctic’s Greenland) are included.

Canada, Denmark and Russia have all planted flags in parts of the Arctic in symbolic shows of defiance to international rule-making. “The EU is ready to work with (these countries) to increase stability, to enhance Arctic multilateral governance … and for sustainable use of natural resources including hydrocarbons,” Europe’s rulemakers said late Thursday in communiques.

Meanwhile, all countries with Arctic access have filed arguments in support of strengthening their zones. The EU has been relatively quiet, limiting its arctic engagement to funding the clean up of Russia’s Cold Ward nuclear waste, notes to Norway about changing times and its own Integrated Maritime Policy.

“The Arctic is a unique and vulnerable region located in the immediate vicinity of Europe,” Martime Commissioner Joe Borg said in a statement, adding, “Its evolution will have significant repercussions on the life of Europeans for generations to come.”

The report also re-affirmed Europe’s belief that climate change will completely clear the arctic pack ice in summer for shipping and therefore exploration activity.

In the coming months, “Eurocrats” will push for “sustainable use of resources, multilateral governance and more “maritime surveillance” in its council chambers. In what may be relief to some arctic countries, Europeans will argue the UN Conventoin on the Law of the Sea is the basis for solving disputes.

In March, the EU informed Norway that conventions would have to be altered, as melting ice uncovered the Arctic’s resource trove.

“Access to the enormous new amounts of hydrocarbons in the Arctic region will change the geostrategic dynamic in the area, with possible consequences for international stability and Europe’s security,” a note from EU Foreign Policy Coordinator Xavier Solana informed the non-EU Norwegians at a European policy.

The EU had claimed, and perhaps still does, that areas of melted ice could change the status of the disputed Arctic Basin, and today’s economic zones could pass from national control to international stewardship.

The Right of the Seas Convention of 1982 and United Nations Continental Shelf Commission in New York govern access to offshore oil and gas. Current governing principles are a mix of national geology and the rights of people who live in coastal areas.


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