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Antarctic oil sets up cold war

Last updated 12:00 18/09/2011

MICHAEL FIELD

6

Construction of a startling new base on the Ross Sea coast will bring millions of dollars to Christchurch but raises questions over possible rival bids over New Zealand's potentially oil-rich Antarctic claim.

South Korea, using a Lyttelton-based icebreaker, will next year begin building a $120 million base at Terra Nova Bay, 300km north of New Zealand's Scott Base.

Jang Bogo, named after an eighth-century maritime king who controlled Asia's Yellow Sea, will be one of the largest permanent bases after Scott Base and the United States' McMurdo Station.

Hyundai Engineer and Construction will build the 4000m2 Jang Bogo base, which will house 15 people in winter and 60 in summer. An environmental review noted that because the Terra Nova Bay lacks suitable runways, the materials will all be shipped from Busan to Christchurch where it will be loaded aboard Korea's new icebreaker, Araon.

New Zealand's claim to the Ross Dependency was suspended with the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 which also demilitarised the continent.

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That treaty expires in 2048 and with the Ross Sea suspected of being one of the world's largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, pressure is already building over what will happen when the treaty expires. Korea's patriotic base name, following China's new bases with nationalistic titles, hints at possible territorial claims, according to a paper written by Sydney's Lowy Institute national security fellow, Ellie Fogarty.

While not calling for an all-out Antarctic military option, she said Australia's longer-term national security was intrinsically tied to Antarctica's future use.

"In the face of growing interest from other members of the international community, Australia must act now to ensure its Antarctic policy and activities are suitable to protect its interests." Australia and New Zealand together claim around half of all of Antarctica, and Peter Cozens, senior fellow at Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies, says Wellington and Canberra will have to develop a joint approach.

"In some ways it seems as if our government would like our claim to simply disappear on the grounds that it will require a lot of effort and largesse, " Cozens said. He believed New Zealand might have to spend $500 million on a rugged Antarctic ship capable of being a national flag carrier in the Ross Sea.

Fogarty said higher oil prices would make it feasible to extract the 50 billion barrels believed to exist in the Weddell and Ross Seas.

"Despite the treaty's provisions, recent activities of several states suggest that the questions of sovereignty and resource exploitation are far from resolved."

She noted New Zealand used military personnel and material in its operations and the Defence White Paper included Antarctica as a core New Zealand Defence Force responsibility.

Given that Australia and New Zealand have a lengthy defence relationship and many common strategic interests, "co-operative surveillance or joint investment in unmanned capabilities with New Zealand might also be explored", she wrote.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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JML   #6   09:04 am Sep 21 2011

The Madrid Protocol only suspends the extraction of Mineral Resources. The Treaty and Protocol do not define a Mineral Resource. The legal definition of a Mineral Resource excludes Hydrocarbons which is why the abandoned convention that preceeded but was never ratified gave a definition to Mineral Resources that specifically included Hydrcarbons. Alas the current ban whilst good for preventing Mineral Resource extraction to 2048 does nothing to prevent the extraction of Hydrocarbons in and around Antarctica.

Jim Barnes   #5   08:28 pm Sep 20 2011

Following on from Tony Press's comment, the article is confusing the Antarctic Treaty, which underpins the legal regime for the area south of 60 degrees South Latitude (eg, the Antarctic Treaty Area) and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to that Treaty, which came into force legally in 1998. It is the latter that contains an indefinite ban on exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and minerals. As Tony notes, it does not expire in 2048, or ever, but in 2048 a member nation could request a review conference to discuss lifting the ban. Suffice it to say that the steps required for that to happen and for minerals development to commence are arduous. The South Korean scientific research station and their new ice-breaker bring new scientific tools into the region.

Tony Press   #4   10:32 am Sep 19 2011

The treaty does not expire in 2048; nor does the prohibition on mining (including for oil) in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

Paul161   #3   10:45 pm Sep 18 2011

Great here we go again, destroying a pristine environment because they "believe" there's 50 billion barrels of dead dinosaurs under a mile thick sheet of sea ice, OH not to worry, they'll reassure us every step of the way as to how environmentally friendly they are and how every precaution will be taken to prevent damage and death to the wildlife. YEAH RIGHT just remember the Gulf of Mexico last year....nuff said.

Kane   #2   07:44 pm Sep 18 2011

Yes - we should get in on this so we can start mining there for oil as soon as it's economically viable. If this happens, NZ stands to be the Norway of the Southern Hemisphere.... Just remember how much money Norway has in it's pensioners bank account. Great stuff - We will return NZ to the country with the highest standard of living in the world rather than constantly struggling as a result of Greenie pressures to leave the energy rich stuff in the ground.

Oil baron   #1   01:38 pm Sep 18 2011

Just remember how much those Aussies love their mining - they are so far up those mining companys' backsides already.

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