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Norway Sets Limit On Arctic Seabed, Short Of North Pole

The United States, Russia, Canada, and Denmark also have claims on the Arctic

The United States, Russia, Canada, and Denmark also have claims on the Arctic

OSLO (Reuters) -- Norway has become the first Arctic state to agree limits to its northern seabed, stopping short of the North Pole in a regional territorial scramble driven partly by hopes of finding oil and natural gas.

Norway's newly defined continental shelf covers 235,000 sq kilometers, or three-quarters the size of mainland Norway, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said.

To the north, the shelf ends in deep water 550 kilometers from the pole that is claimed by both Russia and Denmark.

"Norway is the first polar nation to complete this work," Stoere told a news conference of talks with a UN commission that is trying to agree limits to continental shelves of coastal states as part of a revisions to the UN Law of the Sea.

Agreement on shelf limits gives states the right to exploit resources on and beneath the seabed, such as oil and gas or the genes of marine organisms, officials said.

A U.S. official report last year said the Arctic contains enough oil and gas to meet current world demand for three years, or 90 billion barrels. And global warming may make the region more accessible.

Norway accepted adjustments by commission experts to a submission Oslo made in 2006 and would write the new limits into national law, Stoere said. Other states ringing the Arctic Ocean are the United States, Russia, Canada, and Denmark via Greenland.

Stoere said boundaries were set between Norway and Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes.

"In the discussion about who owns the North Pole -- it's definitely not us," he said.

Russian Flag

Russia planted a flag on the seabed 4,261 meters beneath the North Pole in 2007 in a symbolic claim. Denmark has also said that the pole is Danish, because of a subsea ridge running north from Greenland toward Russia.

Stoere said the Norwegian shelf still has some undefined areas because of long-running disputes with Russia to the east and over how to define the area around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard -- open to all signatories of a 1920 treaty.

Under the Law of the Sea, coastal states own the seabed beyond existing 200-nautical-mile (370.4-kilometer) zones if it is part of a continental shelf of shallower waters.

Some shelves stretch hundreds of kilometers before reaching the deep ocean floor, which is owned by no state. Stoere said that Norway was not gaining territory, merely defining what was its under international law.

The commission has set a deadline of May 13 this year for most coastal states to submit limits on their shelves. Countries such as the United States, which have not ratified the Law of the Sea, are exempt.

Elsewhere in the world, a few countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have completed similar negotiations as Norway.