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28 May, 2008 17:30

Arctic oil rush begins

Officials from the five nations with Arctic coastlines have been meeting in Greenland for talks on the territorial status of the polar region. According to geologists, 25% of the world's oil and gas reserves could lie buried under the ice. The row over ex

Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the U.S. all claim rights over the Arctic. All own a part of the region, but each is vying for the area that lies beyond.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has the ultimate say over issues concerning continental shelf borders. It says a country’s shoreline can be extended if the sea bed is a continuous part of the continent.

Last year Russia became the first country to plant its flag at the bottom of the Arctic Sea at the geographical North Pole. However, Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that this doesn’t mean Moscow is about to claim the area as its own.

“There is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. There are mechanisms created to implement this convention, including for the continental shelf. These mechanisms are being strictly and respectfully followed by the Russia, by Denmark and all other countries,” he said.

Nevertheless, other nations did see last year's Russian expedition as a threat to their rights. The U.S. sent its largest icebreaker to the area and Norway promised to build military bases in the far North.

Denmark also launched its own expeditions, but now says anyone going into the region needs to do so responsibly.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller says it’s for the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) to decide who owns what, and the decision should be based on scientific data.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Gruzdev, one of the members of the Arctica-2007 expedition, says it's the right time for Russia to begin mapping out areas that belong to it. He also believes it’s important that the country applies to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in good time and presents as much evidence as possible.

“The commission has already adopted similar decisions concerning the Australian shelf, where more than one million square kilometres were identified as Australian territory. I believe the next step will be made in favour of Russia’s application,” he said.