The leaders of Russia and Norway resolved a 40-year-old dispute over dividing the Barents Sea and part of the Arctic Ocean into clear economic zones extending to the edge of Europe’s northern continental shelf. The agreement could herald oil and natural gas exploration in a huge and potentially lucrative region.When Russian scientists planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole in 2007, it seemed that a “race to the Arctic” was on, with northern nations aggressively jostling for the right to exploit resources that were previously out of reach.
The Norwegian and Russian frontiers cap Europe’s northernmost bulge. The new delimitation extends the two countries’ 122-mile land border northward beyond all the islands of the Barents Sea and into the Arctic Ocean, although the two leaders did not provide an exact northward distance.
Conventional practice elsewhere in the world has been to position maritime boundaries at the midpoint between opposing land masses, and for 40 years that has been Norway’s goal with respect to its Svalbard archipelago to the west and the Russian island groups of Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land to the east.
Russia argued instead for a “meridian line” boundary running more or less straight north from the mainland, which would have provided it with an additional 67,000 square miles of economic territory — about equal to the entire Norwegian sector of the North Sea, whose oil resources have made Norway a rich country.