Article from: OGEL 2 (2012), in Editorial
The Arctic is a vast frontier, rich in oil and gas resources. In 2009, the United States Geological Survey estimated that about 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil may be found north of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic is also home to unique fish and wildlife populations. It is traversed by national maritime boundary lines and also by commercial shipping lanes. As polar ice recedes, resource development becomes more feasible; at the same time, vulnerable ecosystems are changing.
Many are concerned about traditional military conflict between Arctic nations. Last month, on Christmas Day, the Washington Post published an op-ed referring to the "global fight for Santa's back yard." The piece highlights the new U.S. Unified Command Plan, which gives Northern Command responsibility for more of the Arctic. It fails to mention, however, that the command plan emphasizes "human and environmental safety and security" in the Arctic, not preparation for armed conflict.
Indeed, the true conflict in the Arctic is not one between military forces. Rather, the important contest is between competing resource uses and environmental protection. Balancing industrial uses - including energy development, shipping, and fisheries - with environmental interests is the key to resolving the real Arctic conflict. This challenge will play out on the commercial stage, not the political-military stage. Typically, though not always, commercial and environmental interests drive states toward cooperation, not conflict. Arctic states, as well as non-state actors, all have an interest in working together to develop energy resources while protecting the ecosystems of the Arctic in a time when the Arctic climate is changing.
The articles in this special issue address several areas essential to understanding current and future Arctic issues:
- The legal regime, maritime boundary delimitation, and dispute resolution. Cooperation in the Arctic is displayed in states' reliance on international law, multilateral cooperation, and bilateral treaties in addressing boundary delimitation and other matters. Our authors examine those sources of law and the resolution of legal disputes in the Arctic region. Timothy Tyler, James Loftis, and Emilie Hawker argue that bilateral treaties between Arctic nations will best fill the gaps in the legal framework and allow resource exploration to advance. Øystein Noreng examines one particular bilateral treaty, the 2010 Barents Sea Agreement between Norway and Russia, and concludes that environmental, political and economic factors are preventing development in the Barents Sea. The importance of the Barents Sea was underscored recently by Statoil's announcement of a major offshore oil find there. Reg Fowler focuses on improvements needed in the international conventions governing the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment. Kaj Hob é r posits that the current legal regime is inadequate for resolving claims resulting from increased activity in the Arctic; and Timothy Lindsay proposes the adoption of a multilateral dispute resolution treaty to resolve boundary delimitation issues. Alexandros Sarris considers climate change and its effects in the Arctic, such as the rising sea levels, to determine whether the principle of clausula rebus sic stantibus, codified in Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, would enable state Parties to absolve themselves of the application of UNCLOS in determining maritime zones in the Arctic. Reinforcing the theme of cooperation, James Loftis and Daniel Bergman discuss the potential emergence and establishment of a general duty of good faith in international law in relation to border issues and the exploitation of shared resources.
- The geopolitics of Arctic developments. Conflict between Arctic states over resource development seems unlikely. Author Betsy Baker elaborates on this point and explores the foundations for cooperation among Arctic nations. Christopher Kulander and Sergei Lomako provide a geopolitical overview of the Arctic, with analysis of the policy positions of Arctic states. Vladimir Gladyshev offers his insider's perspective on the development of Soviet and Russian policies in the Arctic.
- The economics of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. Arctic exploration and development become more economically feasible as the polar ice recedes. Authors Carole Nakhle and Inga Shamsudinova provide an overview of the factors that investors will consider in determining when resource development is commercially viable. There are many costly logistical challenges, and Arctic nations and oil companies are developing innovative approaches to exploration. Rudiger Tscherning discusses the ramifications of Russia's proposal to develop a fleet of transportable nuclear plants designed to supply Russian Arctic settlements with energy and to provide temporary power for hydrocarbon extraction projects. Author Brian Flemming examines the status of commercial shipping routes across the Arctic.
- The environmental issues associated with resource management and development in the Arctic. Arctic actors have recognized the need for cooperation in order to protect the changing ecosystem. Andrey Alimov stresses that Arctic states must to work together to develop Arctic resources in a sustainable manner. Kamrul Hossain and Timo Koivurova examine the risks of oil spills and the difficulties of remediation. Renee Dopplick reviews various regional agreements on oil spill preparedness and response. Alf Håkon Hoel offers a case study on international cooperation with his review of Norway and Russia's efforts to implement ecosystem-based management of the Barents Sea. In their article, authors Carol Dinkins, Margaret E. Peloso, and Hana V. Vizcarra explain that differences in environmental governance, including regulations and the likelihood of citizen suits, are important factors making a state more or less attractive as a location for resource development.
Developments in the Arctic have already captivated governments, energy companies, and environmentalists. The region's importance will only grow as the ice shrinks. We designed this special edition to give those interested in the Arctic some valuable perspectives at this critical juncture in the development of the Arctic.
The editors thank Emilie Hawker, a trainee solicitor in Vinson & Elkins LLP's London office, for her invaluable assistance in organizing and managing this project, as well as editing articles. Margaret Peloso, Imad Khan, and Daniel Bergman of Vinson & Elkins also made significant contributions by editing articles and by offering their important perspectives on commercial and environmental issues. Finally, we thank the authors for their hard work and their valuable contributions to the ongoing international discussion about Arctic issues.
 Donald L. Gautier, et al., Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the Arctic, Science (May 29, 2009) at 1175-79; see also U.S. Geological Survey, An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska (Circular 1370) (2011) at 25-28.
 Heather A. Conley, The Colder War, Wash. Post (Dec. 25, 2011) at B1 & B4.
 Jim Garamone, Unified Command Plan Reflects Arctic's Importance, American Forces Press Service (Apr. 7, 2011).