The world is skating on thin ice

September 25 00:00 2015

The race to claim stakes in the melting Arctic is heating up. That’s because a quarter of the world’s energy reserves are at play Standing 12,000 feet high and stretching more than 1,000 miles, the Lomonosov Ridge very well might be the most important mountain range most people have never heard of. Submerged beneath sea ice and the frigid Arctic waters, the geological peculiarity sits just a few hundred miles from the North Pole, and according to the U.S. Geological Survey the Lomonosov Ridge and areas surrounding it could hold a quarter of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves—90 billion barrels of oil and more than 1.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas worth an estimated $17.2 trillion.

In early August, Russia reasserted its claim to the North Pole and surrounding region that includes part of the Lomonosov Ridge, portions of which are also variously claimed by Denmark and Canada. That amounts to over 463,000 square miles of Arctic sea shelf extending more than 350 nautical miles from the shore. It submitted a bid for these vast territories to the United Nations. This latest push by Russia to expand its claim on the Arctic has not unfolded in a vacuum. Record seasonal losses of Arctic sea ice increasingly open up new navigable sea lanes while also threatening ecosystems there. Potentially vast oil and gas reserves have grown increasingly accessible, luring both governments and energy companies into Arctic waters. 

And as tensions between Russia and the West approach Cold War intensity, a massive military buildup along Russia’s Arctic coastline underscores the geostrategic value of a region that’s become a 21st-century hotbed of high-tech espionage and military competition.