Russian Scientists Beef Up Arctic Shelf Research in Anticipation of Thaw

The Arctic shelf, a hotbed of activity for those willing to brave the ice, has been a touchstone for oil and gas companies hailing from each of the five countries that lay claim to its icy borders. The multi-billion barrels of reserves estimated to be held below the ice-white layers has blazoned the dreams of a modern-day oil rush.

The five countries that hold claim to the Arctic Ocean under international law -- Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States -- can each boast a 200-mile economic swath of the Arctic Ocean. When the ice began breaking, allowing vessels an easier access to the shelf itself, curiosity piqued and the oil and gas resource guess has more and more taken the shape of factual reservoir knowledge.

To build upon that base of knowledge, Russian scientists are reaffirming their commitment to study the hidden resources and maintain Russian jurisdiction over their respective area.

"We are for international cooperation in the Arctic," Russian parliament member Artur Chilingarov told Russian Information Agency Novosti March 27, "but we will never give away what is ours by right."

Chilingarov added that Russia has provided ample funding for Arctic research in 2008, and Russia will be prepared in 2009 to offer the U.N. inconclusive evidence of the country's claim to the area, including "documentary substantiation of the external boundaries of the Russian Federation's territorial shelf…."

Russia's first claim to the shelf came in 2001, but the U.N. has requested more evidence to substantiate that claim.

In November 2007, The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said that the Laptev Sea shelf contains an estimated 9.3 billion boe and 32.3 Tcf. Of course, these resources have yet to be discovered.

In 2000, USGS estimates claimed the Arctic region held some 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

Russian reconnaissance in the Arctic area includes an expedition made by two Russian mini-subs that traversed the Lomonosov Ridge in an eight-hour dive. The goal of the dive was to ensure that Russia had made it known to the world that the area was well within its icy, underwater borders. As proof of its presence, albeit for show, a titanium Russian flag was planted in the seabed.

Several countries, including Canada, were bothered by the claim.

"There is no question over Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic," Canada Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay told CBC News after the underwater planting. "We've made that very clear. We established a long time ago that these are Canadian waters, and this is Canadian property."

Novosti reported that this ridge and the Mendeleyev formation are "believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves … likely to become accessible in future decades due to man-made global warming."

Seismic, aerial and geophysical surveys have been conducted by Russian researchers from icebreaker vessels to validate resource claims in the area.

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