18-06-2011 / Arctic: dialogue continues PDF Print E-mail
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Arctic. Photo: RIA Novosti

The Arctic is a storehouse of hydrocarbons and bio-resources, and it also boasts an infrastructure potential of global proportions. The Norwegian city of Kirkenes has played host to a Russian-Norwegian scientific conference on the innovative and safe development of the Euro-Arctic region.

According to researchers, the Arctic shelf is the area that contains the greatest oil and gas deposits in the world. Oil and gas giants are clearly not about to lose hundreds of billions of dollars in profits. But pumping out money out of the Arctic is fraught with grave consequences, given that technologies to clean up the sea surface and ice of oil spills are non-existent. So, although innovative technologies to develop the Arctic shelf are the talk of the town, one should make a thorough research into safety-related problems, says the president of the National Institute for Global Safety Research Anatoly Smirnov, and elaborates.

"Whenever we refer to innovations, Anatoly Smirnov says, we imply the unprecedented ongoing innovative revolution. But although clearly positive, innovations may pose a threat, such as the events in the Gulf of Mexico last year, or the recent Fukushima nuclear plant accident. We should therefore be always aware of safety problems."

One of the currently more important investment projects in the Arctic is the development of the Shtokman gas and gas condensate field in the Barents Sea, which is one of the biggest the world over. Russia’s Gazprom, Norway’s Statoil and France’s Total have set up a consortium to develop the field.

But once power resources are mined, they should be delivered to consumers. The development of technologies, high mineral resource prices and China’s growing market are but some factors that make one think of new ways of transportation. The change of climate is being followed by a major change in logistics. Ice melting in the Arctic opens new ways of navigation, first of all, the Northern Sea Route, which is the shortest link between Europe and Asia, and also between Europe and the US West Coast. The route runs parallel to Russia’s northern coast, so it is likely to become an effective alternative to the Suez Canal some time soon.

In 2009, 70,000 tons of iron ore were for the first time transported to China along the Northern Sea Route, in just 18 days, or half the time that it would take the delivery via the Suez Canal. The suppliers saved 300,000 dollars worth of fuel.

In 2011, Russia’s biggest shipping company, Sovkomflot, is due to send 15 ships along the route, which is navigable even in winter, if transport vessels are escorted by icebreakers.

A participant in the Kirkenes conference, Secretary-General of Norway’s Barentsekretariat Rune Rafaelsen says that he is certain that Russia and Norway will soon focus on regional bio-resources.

"I believe, Rune Rafaelsen says, that food production in the Barents Sea region in the decades to come will prove quite important. In this regard, Russian-Norwegian joint control of the local fish resources has been exemplary."

It is obvious that even the countries with no immediate access to the Arctic Ocean are likewise willing to meet the Arctic-offered challenge, such countries as Japan and South Korea, where technologies are being developed full steam to produce oil and gas from under ice cover. The European Union, too, is interested in obtaining access to the Arctic, says the Head of the international Barentssekretariat Alexander Ignatyev, and elaborates.

'Efforts were made to sign a common treaty on the Arctic citing this kind of treaty on the Antarctic, says Alexander Ignatyev. But experts invariably pointed out that the situation in the Arctic is altogether different. The Antarctic is no man’s land, and there is no economic activity under way there. Meanwhile in the Arctic, some countries border on the ocean, and there are two-way treaties, and international law provisions regulating the situation. So, the Arctic needs no more agreements, and one is increasingly aware of this."

The European Union can access the Arctic Ocean via Greenland only. The five countries that border on the Arctic Ocean are the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia. Denmark is an EU member-nation that owns Greenland, - the world’s biggest island.

The Arctic nations have been able to avoid conflicts in the north, with Russian-Norwegian cooperation being a graphic illustration of achieving this. The two countries ended their 40-year long dispute to that end last year by signing a treaty on maritime delimitation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The two countries’ Foreign Ministers exchanged the ratification instruments in Oslo right on the eve of the Kirkenes conference. The treaty is due to take effect on July 7th .

Last year Moscow played host to the first international Arctic forum under the motto The Arctic is Territory of Dialogue. Russia and Norway clearly seek the continuation of the peaceful dialogue.



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