Russians Eye Antarctica's Forbidden Minerals

MOSCOW, Russia, May 2, 2001 (ENS) - A Russian prospecting vessel is reported to have just collected data on oil and gas reserves in Antarctica, a global nature reserve where minerals exploitation is forbidden.

The polar geological prospecting ship Akademik Aleksandr Karpinskiy was working in the Cosmonauts Sea region of eastern Antarctica, according to a Russian Public TV report monitored by the BBC.

"According to preliminary data, the information collected will make it possible to predict the presence of oil and gas reserves in the region," the report said.

It quoted Valeriy Masulov, head of a geological prospecting institute, as saying the area, near Japan's Syowa Base, had been subject to a two year research program, which ended with the vessel's return to St Petersburg late last month.

"The Sea of Cosmonauts is one of the peripheral seas where we expect the presence of a thick sedimentary mantle, well, and therefore good prospects for predicting oil and gas bearing strata," Masulov is quoted as saying.

The April 28 report came two months after another television report on February 13, in which Russian Centre TV described Russia's presence on the sixth continent as a matter of economic expediency.

That report quoted Russian Antarctic Expeditions head Valeriy Lukin as warning, "It is possible that only countries possessing the right technology and equipment will receive the opportunity to develop the natural resources of the Antarctic."

Antarctica

Antarctic landscape (Photo courtesy U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab)
It also claimed that deposits of diamonds in the Antarctic had turned out to be as big as those in South Africa and Yakutia, in Russia's Far East. But Russia's expeditions were said to lack resources to buy new vehicles.

The Antarctic is one of the last pristine environments left on Earth. Much of its scientific value derives directly from the lack of locally generated pollution, and more than 40 nations have joined together in an agreement to preserve this situation.

Under the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in December 1997, minerals exploitation of any kind in Antarctica is banned, and the ban cannot be revisited for 50 years.

Article 7 of the protocol reads, "Any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research, shall be prohibited."

{Published in cooperation with The Antarctican.}