Theater of Cruelty

Norway will "own" halfway to the North Pole

Many want more: Now Norway will be even bigger. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry refuses to share the Svalbard shelf with other countries. Russia is among those protesting.


The core point of the Svalbard Treaty is the balance between Norwegian sovereignty and the signatories' equal rights to the archipelago's resources. But the word continental shelf was a premonition when the treaty was drafted in 1920. The question first became relevant when US President Harry Truman demanded control of his own shelf in 1945. Next summer, Norway will submit its demands for the size of its own continental shelf to the UN.

Recent research shows that the continental shelf extends further into the sea than previously thought. This means that Norway can demand larger sea areas than we currently control, and already today we control an area six times the size of our own mainland.

Geology fellow Øyvind Engen at the University of Oslo has just finished his doctoral dissertation on the Norwegian continental shelf in the Arctic regions. His research shows that the shelf extends between 200 and 350 nautical miles north of Svalbard. The unresolved question then becomes: does the shelf fall outside the archipelago's 12 nautical mile boundary, fall within the Svalbard Treaty's requirement that all 39 signatory countries have equal rights to resource utilization?

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is tasked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide the technical basis for how far the Norwegian shelf extends. Project coordinator Harald Brekke assumes that the outer boundary of the pedestal will be somewhere between 84 and 85 degrees north. The Svalbard Treaty defines the archipelago as the area between 74 and 81 degrees north, and the North Pole is at 90 degrees. Thus, the Norwegian requirement will extend almost halfway to the North Pole.


In other words, Norway aims to submit documentation on the continental shelf next summer. Subsequently, the Commission for the Continental Shelf External Borders (CLCS) will make its recommendation, states Deputy Director Kjell Kristian Egge in the section for treaty and sea law in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The research work carried out by Øyvind Engen will form the basis of Norway's requirements.

- The Norwegian requirement, including requirements related to the High North, will be formulated on the basis of scientific studies and calculations that have not yet been completed. It is therefore too early to state an exact scope of a Norwegian requirement for the continental shelf, says Egge.

- But have you concluded about whether Svalbard has its own continental shelf?

- In the Norwegian view, the Svalbard Treaty will not apply to the continental shelf off Svalbard, Egge states.

The Russian embassy in Oslo is reluctant to comment on these issues, but press attachment Andrey Rusakov is clear when it comes to the question of the continental shelf.

- Yes, we believe that the Svalbard Treaty also applies to the continental shelf, Rusakov states. This means that Russia will have the same right to the resources in the area as Norway.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes that the NCS could curb a conflict if Norway's final proposal for the NCS should include parts of the areas that are subject to disagreement between Norway and Russia.

- The Commission will, on a scientific basis, assess the durability of the Norwegian documentation in relation to the criteria set by the Convention on the Law of the Sea. The commission will help to ensure the correct application of the complicated delimitation rules in the convention and thereby reduce the potential for conflict and uncertainty around the external shelf boundaries, Egge states.

- How will Russia behave, if the Norwegian requirements also include parts of the disputed areas in the Barents Sea, where the dividing line has not been determined?

- When Norway presents its demands to the Commission, Russia will review these and our position will be formulated, Andrey Rusakov answers very diplomatically.

No oil plans

The press attachment is also optimistic, should disagreements arise around Svalbard.

- If in the future there should be disagreement, related to Norway's enforcement of sovereignty, these will be the subject of constructive dialogue on both sides, within the framework of the two countries' foreign ministries, Rusakov says.

At the US embassy in Oslo, one does not want to comment on whether the continental shelf around Svalbard falls under the treaty.

In the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, international conventions are pointed out when we ask what interest Norway has in securing these areas as its own continental shelf.

- Drawing the boundaries of national continental shelf is generally considered important, and the work of mapping the extent of the Norwegian continental shelf outside 200 nautical miles is given high priority. Norway will work to safeguard its shelf rights in accordance with the Convention on the Law of the Sea, Egge concludes.

The Ministry does not, therefore, speak of the petroleum resources, although it is in the cards that this is exactly what such an expanded shelf will give Norway exclusive rights to. According to the Russian Embassy, ​​their authorities have not thought so far, yet.

- Russia currently has no plans for oil production outside Svalbard, despite the fact that the treaty does not set any restrictions for this, if such activities are not also a threat to the environment. We are concerned with developing the petroleum sector in the Barents Sea, and in this work Norway is a strategic partner for Russia. If Norwegian oil companies are interested in a collaboration, they are most welcome, says Andrey Rusakov.

On and below the seabed

Unlike an economic zone, set at 200 nautical miles, the continental shelf gives the country concerned only the right to all resources on and under seabed. An economic zone, on the other hand, also entitles the country to the resources of the sea.

Norwegian "ownership" of the areas in the north is limited by at least two conditions. Despite the fact that the Svalbard Treaty gives Norway unrestricted sovereignty over the archipelago, the treaty entails an obligation to share resources with the other 38 signatory states. The treaty defines Svalbard as all the islands within 10 and 35 degrees east longitude and between 74 and 81 degrees north latitude. This area is often referred to as the Svalbard Box, and Russia has taken this area into account in its demand for a sector line division in the Barents Sea.

Furthermore, the Ocean Right Treaty of 1982 comes into play, which Norway joined in 1996. This gives every country the right to a 200-mile economic zone, and further defines the outer border of the continental shelf. ducks like 200 nautical miles from the mainland baseline, that is, similar to the economic zone, or the actual boundary of the continental shelf, based on measurements of the sediment layer on the seabed. In any case, the limit cannot be extended further from the baseline than 350 nautical miles (650 kilometers). Of the two alternative calculation methods, the one that gives the individual state the largest shelf is chosen.

Of national interest

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate will conduct further investigations in the area in September. Project coordinator Harald Brekke, himself a member of the CLCS, points out that the Marine Law Treaty requires each coastal state to advance its claims within 10 years of the country having ratified the treaty.

- It is in the interest of all countries to have these boundaries clarified, and thus clarify which jurisdiction applies, says Brekke, who rejects that this today is about petroleum resources. And what resources are available in the area, only time will tell.

- If the shelf extends significantly north of Svalbard, does the directorate believe this falls under the Svalbard Treaty, or is the Norwegian shelf alone?

- We work on the basis that the shelf around Svalbard is Norwegian, and that the same guidelines apply here, as on the Norwegian shelf in general. Article 1 of the Svalbard Treaty states that the archipelago is under Norwegian sovereignty, but as to whether the principle of equal treatment applies, this is basically not our table. We do not take part in the political assessments, it is the Foreign Ministry's table, says Harald Brekke.

He emphasizes that in the area in question, neither the border with Russia in the east nor Greenland in the west has finally been clarified. The UN Commission will only decide whether the area can be classified as a continental shelf, and then it will be up to the individual countries to agree on the border lines.

According to Brekke, it is also not just the areas north of Svalbard that will be affected by a Norwegian shelf expansion.

- So far we can say that the data we have collected shows that the Norwegian shelf extends further than 200 nautical miles, both north from Svalbard, in the Norwegian Sea and in Smutthullet, says Brekke.

There is nevertheless little reason to believe that Norway will promote a requirement for the shelf in Smutthullet. When Russia presented its demands to the Commission in 2002, Norway objected to the demand following the sector line in the Barents Sea, thus affecting the disputed areas. The Russian proposal, which, by the way, extended all the way to the North Pole, was rejected and the Russians are preparing a new proposal.

The NPD has also bought into an American research trip which is currently underway with the US coastguard USCGC Healy. The ship is currently on its way across the Arctic Ocean, from Alaska to Tromsø.

- A bit further

The results of Øyvind Engen's research, which is supported by the Research Council and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, will lay guidelines for Norway's demands on the UN on the expanded continental shelf. The meadow has developed a new method for measuring the thickness of the sediment layer, which determines the boundary of the shelf. Among other things, the United States has shown greater and greater interest in this field of research, because they see an opportunity for more own oil.

It is therefore the sediments on the seabed that can now determine if the shelf north of Svalbard becomes Norwegian.

- The seabed plunges just north of Svalbard, and apart from the large Mediterranean ridge that runs through the Arctic Ocean, we are talking about depths down to 4.000 meters. In a geological sense, the continental shelf is the flat, shallow sea areas close to land, while the Convention on the Law of the Sea defines that the legal shelf can extend into the deep sea based on how thick the sediments are. This is reasonable since underwater "rivers" wash sediments from the shallow shelf into the deep sea so that the layers here can be considered a natural extension of the sediments on the shelf. If a state is to be able to claim an ocean area as a continental shelf according to the Law of the Sea Treaty, the sediment layer must be thicker than 1 percent of the distance to the continental slope, which in the Arctic Ocean means around 1.500 meters of sediments, Engen explains.

- What is Norway going to do with this shelf?

- It will clearly be a significant political gain for Norway, if the outer border were to be set so far north. I think this could be a good starting point for the oil companies, when we see how eager they are in the Barents Sea and the Arctic. But this will take time anyway, Engen emphasizes, and continues:

- If the area is to be interesting for oil activities, the sediment layer must usually be 4.000 meters thick. In thinner layers, the oil is unlikely to be "mature", ie there has not been high enough pressure and high enough temperature to convert dead plant and animal remains into oil and gas. This means that in the area in question, it will probably not be relevant to drill for oil other than in the vicinity of shallower water, where the sediment layer can have such a thickness. If Norway then gets a legal outer border for its continental shelf further north, it will have large areas within this to look in, says Engen.

- We are approaching the North Pole. Isn't it just ice cream up there?

- These areas are frozen for large parts of the year, both pack ice and drift ice. We are talking about an outer limit between 200 and 350 nautical miles north of Svalbard, ie between 370 and 650 kilometers. But the distance from Svalbard to the North Pole is 1100 kilometers, so there is still a long way to go, according to Engen.

Tug of War

The question of whether the 38 other signatory states of the Svalbard Treaty should have any rights on the archipelago's continental shelf is thus an unanswered question. A question that may be raised in connection with the processing of Norway's requirements in the CLCS, or on the day when it will be relevant to open these marine areas for petroleum extraction. The treatment in CLCS is not expected to be completed until 2009.

Whether countries such as the Dominican Republic or Afghanistan will require their share of the cake, that is, the right to participate in resource utilization, the question will have to be clarified in between. Neither of the two mentioned countries is currently represented in the SLCS, however, it is both Norway and Russia.

- It is an unsolved problem, if other signatory states should sometime in the future want access to oil from a future economic zone around Svalbard. Then I will believe Norway chooses the line of negotiation with affected parties, rather than taking the case to court in The Hague, Professor Willy Østreng told Ny Tid a couple of weeks ago.

It has been pointed out, inter alia, by Professor Geir Ulfstein, that an extension of the treaty from territorial waters to the continental shelf is not unnatural. The same has happened with all other coastal states' regimes at sea. But the question will eventually have to be a tug of war between the signatories, if there are resources worth fighting for.

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