Bush issues U.S. policy on Arctic energy supplies

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:10pm EST

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers his final news conference in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington January 12, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers his final news conference in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington January 12, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Monday issued a directive spelling out the U.S. interest in the vast oil and natural gas resources held in the Arctic.

The directive contradicts Russia's claim to a bigger chunk of the Arctic and its energy supplies, and says the United States wants to work with all countries that have territory in the region to settle disputes over boundaries.

"When it comes to energy, the notion isn't a race to the Arctic to put our flags down," said Benjamin Chang, deputy spokesman for the National Security Council.

"Our approach is going to be dealing with our fellow Arctic nations in finding ways to access and develop, when it comes to energy specifically, that takes into account conservation and the environment," he added.

The Russian government said in November it expects geological work to be finished at the end of 2011 to determine the external border of the Russian continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean.

In addition to Russia and the United States, the other countries that claim territory in the Arctic are Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The Arctic Circle holds an estimated 90 billion barrels of recoverable oil, enough supply to meet current world demand for almost three years, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a forecast released last summer.

The government agency also said the area could contain 1,670 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas.

"There will be a need for exploration of (Arctic) oil and gas and other resources in the future," Chang said.

Environmental groups are concerned that global warming will make more areas of the Arctic accessible for energy exploration.

The presidential directive represents U.S. policy on the Arctic and carries over to the incoming Barack Obama administration. The policy, which updates a 1994 presidential directive on the Arctic, remains in effect until it is changed by a future president.

(Editing by Christian Wiessner.)

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