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Useless Cold Wars over Treasures Deep Within the Arctic

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Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice", as the American poet Robert Frost put it. Currently, the sands of the Libyan desert are the locus for conflict around oil installations, but might the struggle for resources shift to the Arctic?


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Admiral James Stavridis, the supreme Nato commander for Europe, thinks so. He warned last year that the lure of oil could cause the polar regions to slip "down the icy slope towards a zone of competition, or worse a zone of conflict".

And Russia's 2009 national security strategy explicitly raises the possibility of using military force to defend its Arctic interests. In 2007, mini-submarines planted a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole, staking Vladimir Putin's claim in the style of a 16th-century conquistador.

Even Denmark and Canada have managed to tangle over Hans Island, a barren rock slightly larger than Dubai Mall, sending naval forces to the area.

For most of history, it has not been necessary to define territorial claims in this frozen wasteland. Onshore production in Alaska and west Siberia goes back to the 1960s, but only recently have higher oil prices, and the retreat of the ice cap under the onslaught of global warming, made offshore Arctic resources economically viable.

The US Geological Survey estimates potential for 134 billion barrels of oil (about as much as Iran's reserves) and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of gas (more than Russia's reserves).

At the start of this month, Norway's Statoil rekindled the interest of petroleum geologists by finding some 250 million barrels of oil and gas at the Skrugard prospect in the Barents Sea. This expanse of chilly waters runs from the North Cape, Europe's farthest extremity, up to the glacier-bound islands of Svalbard, kingdom of the polar bear, at 78 degrees north.

The Barents Sea has long had tantalising but unfulfilled promise. A long string of exploration wells yielded only two discoveries, which waited decades for development in these harsh conditions. Now Skrugard will revitalise exploration in Norway's far north.

"We have confirmed that our exploration model is correct," says Tim Dodson, the vice president for exploration at Statoil.

Across the Russian border, in the eastern Barents, Shtokman, one of the world's largest gasfields, was discovered in 1988. Although reserves in this one field are more than half of the total for the UAE, it still awaits development because of endless procrastination by the Russians over the western partners they



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