FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019, file photo, a large Iceberg floats away as the sun sets near Kulusuk, Greenland. As warmer temperatures cause the ice to retreat the Arctic region is taking on new geopolitical and economic importance, and not just the United States hopes to stake a claim, with Russia, China and others all wanting in. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
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World powers increasingly see icy Arctic as a hot property

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By DAVID RISING and SETH BORENSTEIN

From a helicopter, Greenland's brilliant white ice and dark mountains make the desolation seem to go on forever. And the few people who live here — its whole population wouldn't fill a football stadium — are poor, with a high rate of substance abuse and suicide.

One scientist called it the "end of the planet."

When U.S. President Donald Trump floated the idea of buying Greenland, it was met with derision, seen as an awkward and inappropriate approach of an erstwhile ally.

But it might also be an Aladdin's Cave of oil, natural gas and rare earth minerals just waiting to be tapped as the ice recedes.

The northern island and the rest of the Arctic aren't just hotter due to global warming. As melting ice opens shipping lanes and reveals incredible riches, the region is seen as a new geopolitical and economic asset, with the U.S., Russia, China and others wanting in.

"An independent Greenland could, for example, offer basing rights to either Russia or China or both," said Fen Hampson, head of the international security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation think tank in Waterloo, Ontario, noting the desire by some there to secede as a semi-autonomous territory of Denmark.

"I am not saying this would happen, but it is a scenario that would have major geostrategic implications, especially if the Northwest Passage becomes a transit route for shipping, which is what is happening in the Russian Arctic."

In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward an ambitious program to reaffirm his country's presence in the Arctic, including efforts to build ports and other infrastructure and expand its icebreaker fleet. Russia wants to stake its claim in the region that is believed to hold up to one-fourth of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas.

China sees Greenland as a possible source of rare earths and other minerals and a port for shipping through the Arctic to the eastern U.S. It called last year for joint development of a "Polar Silk Road" as part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative to build railways, ports and other facilities in dozens of countries.

But while global warming pushes the cold and ice farther north each year, experts caution that the race to the Arctic is an incredibly challenging marathon, not a sprint.

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet creates uncertainty and danger for offshore oil and gas developers, threatening rigs and ships. "All that ice doesn't suddenly melt; it creates icebergs that you have to navigate around," said Victoria Herrmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute, a nonprofit focused on Arctic security.

On the other hand, while mining in Greenland has been expensive due to the environment, development costs have fallen as the ice has melted, making it more attractive to potential buyers, she said.

Strategically, Greenland forms part of what the U.S. views as a key corridor for naval operations between the Arctic and the North Atlantic. It is also part of the broader Arctic region, considered strategically important because of its proximity to the U.S. and economically vital for its natural resources.

Hampson noted it was an American protectorate during World War II, when Nazi Germany occupied Denmark, and the U.S. was allowed to build radar stations and rent-free bases on its territory after the war. That includes today's Thule Air Force Base, 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) south of the North Pole.

After the war, the U.S. proposed buying Greenland for $100 million after flirting with the idea of swapping land in Alaska for parts of the Arctic island. The U.S. also thought about buying Greenland 80 years earlier.

Trump "may not be as crazy as he sounds despite his ham-fisted offer, which clearly upset the Danes, and rightly so," Hampson said.

Greenland is part of the Danish realm along with the Faeroe Islands, another semi-autonomous territory, and has its own government and parliament. Greenland's 56,000 residents got extensive home rule in 1979 but Denmark still handles foreign and defense policies, with an annual subsidy of $670 million.

Its indigenous people are not wealthy, and vehicles, restaurants, stores and basic services are few.

Trump said Sunday he's interested in Greenland "strategically," but its purchase is "not No. 1 on the burner."

Although Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called Trump's idea to purchase Greenland an "absurd discussion," prompting him to call her "nasty" and cancel an upcoming visit to Copenhagen, she also acknowledged its importance to both nations.

"The developments in the Arctic region calls for further cooperation between the U.S. and Greenland, the Faeroe Islands and Denmark," she said. "Therefore I would like to underline our invitation for a stronger cooperation on Arctic affairs still stands."

Greenland is thought to have the largest deposits outside China of rare earth minerals used to make batteries and cellphones.

Such minerals were deemed critical to economic and national security by the U.S. Interior Department last year, and as demand rises "deposits outside of China will be sought to serve as a counterbalance to any market control that could be exerted by a single large producer," said Kenneth Medlock, senior director at the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.

Off Greenland's shores, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates there could be 17.5 billion undiscovered barrels of oil and 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, though the remote location and harsh weather have limited exploration. Around the Arctic Circle, there's potential for 90 billion barrels of oil.

Only 14 offshore wells were drilled in the past 40 years, according to S&P Global Analytics. So far, no oil in exploitable quantities has been found.

"It's very speculative, but in theory they could have a lot of oil," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc. "It's perceived as being the new Alaska, where the old Alaska was thought to be worthless and turned out to have huge reserves. And it's one of the few places on Earth that's lightly populated, and it's close to the U.S."

Michael Byers, an Arctic expert at the University of British Columbia, suggests there are better approaches for Washington than the politically awkward suggestion of purchasing Greenland.

"There's no security concern that would be dealt with better if Greenland became a part of the United States. It's part of the NATO alliance," he said. "As for resources, Greenland is open to foreign investment. Arctic resources are expensive and that is why there is not more activity taking place. That's the barrier. It's not about Greenland restricting access."

That's been the approach taken by China, which has had mixed success. Greenland officials have visited China to look for investors but Beijing's interest also has provoked political unease.

In 2016, Denmark reversed plans to sell Groennedal, a former U.S. naval base that the Danish military had used as its command center for Greenland after a Hong Kong company, General Nice Group, emerged as a bidder, according to defencewatch.dk, a Danish news outlet.

Last year, then-U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis successfully pressured Denmark not to let China bankroll three commercial airports on Greenland, over fears they could give Beijing a military foothold near Canada, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Beijing's biggest Greenland-related investment to date is an ownership stake by a Chinese company in Australia-based Greenland Minerals Ltd., which plans to mine rare earths and uranium.

"People talk about China, but China can access Arctic resources through foreign investment," Byers said. "And foreign investment is a lot cheaper than trying to conquer something."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


9 Comments
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Maybe we should move away from fossil fuel, no?

Only if windmills wouldn’t cause cancer and solar panel was’t depleting the sun’s energy...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

One scientist called it the "end of the planet."

And if the global robber barons, oligarchs and other assorted predatory capitalists controlling the fossil economy continue unchecked, and in a world dominated by Trump's US, Putin's Russia and Xi's China that's pretty much assured, we may not see the 'end of the planet', but most likely will see a planet where all forms of life are put at even greater levels of risk. Even the robber barons.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The idea that money can be made from the continuation of global warming will be the death of us. And censors suck.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

It's sad, isn't it? Various countries are more concerned with making money off of a global catastrophe than repairing or helping to alleviate the problem.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

If human beings don't develop gills (or a spout for breathing from the tops of their heads, like whales), their existence on our dying planet will just be a footnote on the earth's history.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

By international treaty the Antarctic continent is free to all and is for scientific research only. The Arctic areas should be treated the same way, with the exception that Greenland is a Danish territory.

Leave the Arctic alone!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

But it might also be an Aladdin's Cave of oil, natural gas and rare earth minerals just waiting to be tapped as the ice recedes.

So perhaps Trump isn't all that dumb after all. It all boils down to which country can tap into and exploiting natural resources. All these natural resources are essential for technology. Whoever controls the natural resource mining can control the applied technology. I prefer the U.S. rather than China and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward an ambitious program to reaffirm his country's presence in the Arctic, including efforts to build ports and other infrastructure and expand its icebreaker fleet. Russia wants to stake its claim in the region that is believed to hold up to one-fourth of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas.

China sees Greenland as a possible source of rare earths and other minerals and a port for shipping through the Arctic to the eastern U.S.

And it's okay for Russia and China to stake a claim in the region, but not the U.S.? When they make a claim, you know they will build military bases too.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

So perhaps Trump isn't all that dumb after all

He is still.

What make his comment dumb what not the idea of Greenland being worth of interest but the idea of buying it. There is people living there. Selling and buying people is kind of outdated. But perhaps, he didn't know or just thought he can kick them out of the territory or that they will disappear into fine air or they will not notice changing nationality or .... or just he didn't even think.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There is people living there. Selling and buying people is kind of outdated. But perhaps, he didn't know or just thought he can kick them out of the territory or that they will disappear into fine air or they will not notice changing nationality or .... or just he didn't even think.

Maybe Trump wants to establish more concentration camps there. He is a criminal.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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