As Arctic ice recedes in the summer months, nations, including the U.S., are eying the region’s mineral and fossil fuel resources. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was in Tromso, Norway, last week telling reporters“A lot of countries are looking at what will be the potential for exploration and extraction of natural resources as well as new sea lanes,” but that it was important that countries “agree on ‘rules of the road’ in the Arctic so new developments are economically sustainable and environmentally responsible.”
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea governs resource and territory claims in the Arctic, but the U.S. has yet to ratify it. The current administration is pushing for ratification, with Clinton testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late March, but faces opposition. Critics of the Convention say the treaty would impinge on U.S. sovereignty. The U.S. is a member of the Arctic Council, an advisory body made up of Arctic coastal states, but no binding resolutions have emerged from the group.
The U.S. Department of Energy is exploring technologies that will take advantage of the specific conditions of the area, including the presence of methane hydrates. Dutch oil producer Shell has been given permission to drill exploratory wells in the U.S. Arctic this summer, but it is unclear when Shell will receive permission for commercial drilling, or if legal challenges posed by environmental and indigenous groups will hold up activities in its U.S. leases.
What should be the role of the United States in exploring, mining and protecting emerging Arctic resources? What are the policy challenges to opening up oil and gas extraction in the Arctic?