| TROMSO, Norway, June 2
TROMSO, Norway, June 2 U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton boards a research ship on Saturday to tour the
Arctic, where big powers are vying for vast deposits of oil, gas
and minerals that are becoming available as the polar ice
The top U.S. diplomat took the unusual step of visiting
Tromso, a Norwegian town in the Arctic Circle, to dramatize U.S.
interests in a once inaccessible region whose resources are up
for grabs as the sea ice melts with climate change.
"From a strategic standpoint, the Arctic has an increasing
geopolitical importance as countries vie to protect their rights
and extend their influence," Clinton told reporters in Oslo
before making the nearly two-hour flight north to Tromso.
"We want to work with Norway and the Arctic Council to help
manage these changes and to agree on what would be, in effect,
the rules of the road in the Arctic, so new developments are
economically sustainable and environmentally responsible," she
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds
about 13 percent of the world's undiscovered conventional oil
and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas.
Beyond the energy resources, as the ice melts Arctic sea
passages are opening for longer periods each year, cutting
thousands of miles off trade routes between Europe and Asia.
On an eight-day trip to Scandinavia, the Caucasus and
Turkey, Clinton is the latest high-profile visitors to the
Arctic as it enjoys unprecedented political and economic power.
While energy development costs could be twice as high as
those of conventional onshore resources, that has not stopped of
the oil industry's top players from moving in.
Exxon Mobil is working with Russia's Rosneft
to develop blocks in the Kara Sea, off Siberia,
despite the presence of sea ice for up to 300 days a year.
Russia's Gazprom is also working with Total of
France and Norway's Statoil on the
4-trillion-cubic-metre Shtokman gas field 550 km offshore.
But the rush for oil and gas has brought condemnation from
environment campaigners and those who say the rights of local
people risk being trampled.
Environmental activists say the Arctic challenges require
much more aggressive action on everything from fishing quotas to
international standards for oil and gas development in a
pristine, delicate region.
Only about 4 million people live in Arctic areas, leaving
local interest groups weak and creating a risk of uncontrolled
development, a challenge for the Arctic Council, the advisory
forum of eight nations formed in 1996 to promote cooperation.
The council includes the United States, Canada, Russia,
Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark, which handles
foreign affairs for Greenland, as well as groups representing
indigenous people directly affected as ice and snow retreat.
(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Anthony