Indigenous Rights, Sovereignty and Resource Governance in the Arctic

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  • July 2013
    Arctic: The New Front

    While oil and gas industries are already well established in Siberia and Alaska, the melting of the Arctic ice cap is opening up new areas of the High North to hydrocarbon exploration. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the Arctic is expected to hold about 22 per cent of the world's undiscovered, technically recoverable conventional oil and natural gas resources (about 13 per cent of undiscovered oil reserves, 30 per cent of natural gas, and 20 per cent of natural gas liquids). Greenland waters are believed to be particularly rich in oil, and may contain reserves of up to 50 billion barrels, equivalent of Libyan oil reserves. Of the Arctic Council's five member states bordering the Arctic Ocean, Russia and Norway have already submitted continental shelf claims to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Another two member states, Canada and Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) are in the process of submitting their claims. Sovereign rights to offshore hydrocarbon reserves are key issues at stake in these claims. While some analysts see the scenario as a ‘scramble’ for Arctic hydrocarbons, others highlight the huge technological difficulties of oil and gas extraction in the Arctic, and suggest that territorial disputes are relatively insignificant. Nevertheless, the Arctic region's substantial mineral and hydrocarbon wealth makes issues of sovereignty and governance all the more important to stakeholders, including indigenous peoples as well as states.