As climate change pushes the cold and ice a little farther north each year, it is spurring talk of a gold rush for the Arctic’s abundant natural resources, prized shipping routes and business opportunities in tourism and fishing. The Arctic, including the fabled Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, is among the last regions on earth to remain largely unexplored.
Yet industry experts, researchers and veterans of the Far North say there remain many obstacles to reaping the riches once blocked by the ice. Conservationists also oppose the large-scale extraction of Arctic resources, fearing that the fragile environment will be irreparably harmed.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that up to 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 per cent of oil waiting to be found are inside the Arctic Circle. Even if only a fraction of these fossil fuels are tapped they could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Coal, diamonds, uranium, phosphate, nickel, platinum and other precious minerals also slumber beneath the icy surface of the Arctic. And the growing need for sophisticated batteries to power electric cars and handheld devices likely will drive demand for rare earth elements, lithium and cobalt found in significant amounts in the Arctic regions of Russia, the Nordic countries and Greenland.
It’s a far cry from the Cold War, when the only ships crisscrossing the frigid straits were nuclear submarines patrolling the frontier between East and West. The new battle for the Arctic and its resources is being fought by geologists and legions of lawyers.