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Gas and Glory Fuel Race for the North Pole

Published: July 31, 2007 (Issue # 1293)


MOSCOW The race for the North Pole is on again, and this time theres more at stake than pride at seeing a national flag fluttering on the icecap: Theres oil and gas too.

Russia is one of a handful of nations vying to lay claim to the vast untapped resources of the Arctic, and the competition like the region itself is likely to heat up as global warming and new technology make previously undreamed-of exploration feasible.

Two deep-sea submersibles made a test dive in polar waters Sunday ahead of a mission to be the first to reach the seabed.

It took an hour for Mir-1 and Mir-2, each carrying one pilot, to reach the seabed at a depth of 1,311 meters, 87 kilometers north of Russias northernmost archipelago, Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea, Itar-Tass reported.

It was the first time a submersible had worked under the icecap and it proved they can do this, Anatoly Sagalevich, the pilot of Mir-1 was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass as he left the sub.

As the Arctic icecap thins as a result of global warming, a race is looming to claim ownership of the rich energy resources under the North Pole.

The mission plans to drop a meter-tall, titanium Russian tricolor on the exact spot under the pole to stake a symbolic claim to it and large chunks of Arctic territory for Russia, already the worlds largest country.

Moscow is seeking to put forward a legal claim to a United Nations commission in 2009 100 years after the first explorers claimed to have reached the pole by sled and husky.

We are going to be the first to put a flag there, a Russian flag, expedition leader Artur Chilingarov, 68, told a televised news conference before setting off from the northern port of Murmansk last week.

The Arctic is ours and we should demonstrate our presence, said Chilingarov, a Duma deputy speaker who heads the countrys Association of Polar Explorers.

Following behind a nuclear-powered icebreaker, the latest deep-sea maneuvers are part of a larger scientific mission to investigate the geology of the under-explored territory. Despite engine trouble delaying the mission temporarily early last Thursday, all seemed back on course later in the day, reporters on board the convoy said.

We must remind the whole world that Russia is a great polar and scientific power, said Duma Deputy Vladimir Gruzdev, Chilingarovs fellow submariner on the trip.

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