10 November 2011, 15:01

Prospects for the extension of the Russian Arctic Sector

Prospects for the extension of the Russian Arctic Sector

The overall area of the Russian Arctic sector, including the ocean space, is more than 6 million square kilometres. The area is believed to contain the bulk of the world’s hydrocarbons and other mineral resources.

The overall area of the Russian Arctic sector, including the ocean space, is more than 6 million square kilometres. The area is believed to contain the bulk of the world’s hydrocarbons and other mineral resources.

Today, the marketing and production of these resources in Russia accounts for some 20% of the nation’s GDP and 22% of all Russian exports. However, the area where this wealth is produced is inhabited by just slightly over one million people, of whom 136,000 are the few indigenous peoples of Russia.

The Russian Federation currently stands a chance of largely extending its Arctic sector if it proves that the 1,200,000 square kilometres of ocean floor between the New Siberian Islands and the North Pole (the underwater Mendeleev Ridge and Lomonosov Ridge) are extensions of Russia’s continental shelf.

If Russia does prove so the country will be able to add the seabed area with new oil and gas deposits (up to 5 billion tons of hydrocarbons) to its exclusive economic zone. Russia’s right to the area should be secured by international treaties.

Russia made a relevant submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2001, but the Commission experts claimed that the evidence offered was insufficient to grant the request. Russian scientists had to engage themselves in some extra exploration of the Arctic Ocean floor.

In August 2007, Russian explorers used two manned submersibles MIR to plant the national flag on the seabed, at a depth of more than 4 kilometres, below the North Pole. The venture involved, among others, two State Duma deputies of the United Russia party, with the news media reporting at the time that the water and soil samples taken would enable Russia to again make a submission to the United Nations shortly afterwards to finally secure its right to the new expanses of the Arctic.

According to the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, Russia had to defend its right to the Arctic in the past, too. In the 1920s, the USSR and Norway claimed Franz Joseph Land. The Norwegians rushed to the area in a bid to be the first to raise their flag there, but used light schooners for the expedition, and the ships became icebound.

In 1930, Professor Otto Schmidt of the Sedov expedition raised the Soviet flag there. Earlier still, in November 1924, the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the USSR made public a memorandum, enumerating the islands of the East Arctic that were discovered by Russian explorers in 1913 and 1914. The memo declared that the islands were part of the USSR.

Two years later the Soviet Government said that the eastern and western border of its Arctic sector ran along meridian lines from the extreme points of its continental edge all the way to the North Pole.

Officials of the Russian Ministry for Natural Resources said in a comment on the Arctic-2007 research expedition that the venture made it possible to substantiate Russia’s claim to the Lomonosov Ridge and that sufficient evidence had been collected to add the Lomonosov Ridge to the Russian economic area.

The Ministry also said that in accordance with the “preliminary results of an analysis of the Earth crust model the crust structure of the Lomonosov Ridge corresponds to the world analogues of the continental crust, and it is therefore part of the Russian Federation's adjacent continental shelf”. The Ministry also said that it would be ready to submit the evidence that the underwater Lomonosov Ridge is part of Russia’s continental shelf by December 1st 2007. But soon it became obvious that the preparation of another submission would take a lot more time than originally planned.

According to the Director of the Research Institute of Oceanography, it is currently premature to declare just when the exploration will be over. Russia won’t be able to make a submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf claiming the ocean floor between the New Siberian Islands and the North Pole as an extension of Russia’s continental shelf before 2012. The substantiation of the submission to the United Nations is difficult largely due to the fact that the task that Russian geologists are facing is truly formidable.   

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