This past week, the Obama Administration cleared a plan to override federal regulations on oil drilling off of Alaska's coast in the Arctic Ocean. The proposal is intended to establish drilling standards for the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas, both of which are believed to be abundant in fossil fuels, and follows a growing emphasis in the international system on the Arctic's natural resources. Last January, 1,400 participants from several countries gathered in Tromsø, Norway to stake their claims at the Arctic Frontiers conference. Russia's increasing interest in the region, coupled with its growing military presence throughout international waters, gave the conference unprecedented significance.
In the midst of countless, significant occurrences in the international, political, and economic arenas, why would the Arctic region hold such importance for the world's most influential economies? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, untapped Arctic reservoirs still hold 13 percent of the world's oil and 30 percent of its natural gas. Statistics such as that have sparked the interest of non-Arctic countries as well, such as China who deemed itself a "near-Arctic state" that therefore has a right to assist in the development of the region's resources. The Chinese also wish to establish new trade routes through the Arctic that would diminish the distance between them and their European market partners by 40 percent.
As mentioned before, Russia's interest in the region has caught the most attention from the international community, especially in light of the country's ever-growing military presence in Ukraine and international airspace. At the end of 2014, Russia claimed a large area of ocean floor in the Arctic containing billions of tons of oil and gas, as well as increasing its military presence in the area. This has sparked fears from other Arctic countries that doubt that Russia's interests are purely for economic development.
In summary, as the development of unconventional oil and natural gas resources continues into the 21st century, fueled by a 37 percent predicted rise in global energy demand by 2040, emerging areas like the Arctic Ocean will gain unprecedented importance on the agendas of the world's major economic powers. In spite of this, non-economic interests, such as Russia's security policies that have led to broad accusations of military intrusions into extraterritorial zones, could amplify the significance of holding claims in the region to a matter of national security. Therefore, enterprises in the global energy industry that are interested in tapping into the Arctic's resources should note the growing security and political tensions around the region, especially with regard to Russia's strained relations with its Arctic neighbors that highly influence development in the region.