has the best piece I've seen so far on the Arctic El Dorado
, as it calls it -- and which I referred to in my previous post
. The magazine not only puts the 'unseemly' geopolitical jockeying in the context of international law but also questions some of the claims being thrown around regarding the region's riches. To wit:
An oft-quoted figure—that the region contains 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas—is generally attributed to America's Geological Survey. Don Gautier, who works for that agency, retorts that it has never done a systematic study of the Arctic, or put a figure on its energy riches. But the United States and other Arctic nations are doing a survey now, and a clearer picture may soon emerge.
At least in the short term, Mr Gautier says, government activity in the Arctic has more to do with transport routes than with under-sea riches. But for shippers no less than for oilmen and miners, expectations of quick gains may be overdone.
Take the Northwest Passage, to which the newly proclaimed Canadian port of Nanisivik marks the eastern entrance. At the moment, this route through the Canadian archipelago is navigable at best for a brief summer spell. (Sovereignty over the passage is one of the Arctic's many unresolved issues: Canada claims it, but the United States says the waters are international.) In theory, a complete opening of the Northwest Passage can shave 2,500 miles off a journey from Europe to Asia. But Lawson Brigham of the United States Arctic Research Commission, based in Alaska, is not convinced the financial gains will be dramatic. “Has anybody done the economics?” the former coastguard captain asks. In fact, he and fellow researchers from the Arctic Council are doing some sums at the moment; they will complete their assessment of global warming's impact on shipping next year.
In any case, says the magazine, nations are cooperating in the Arctic (Exhibit A
) and will continue to do so. It's just too big and intractable for any one country to make a grab for it.