This week, Russia approached the United Nations with a claim on 1.2 million square kilometres of the Arctic. The tabloid press reported this as Vladimir Putin staking a claim to the “North Pole,” although that particular feature moves frequently, so it is unlikely to become permanently Russian. Santa Claus, a citizen of the world, will be happy to hear that….In 2010, Russia attempted to force the issue by planting a Russian flag on a titanium pole directly beneath the North Pole. A scientific expedition dropped the flag from a submersible on the ocean floor, although nobody has taken the claim that seriously, yet. Some observers fear that Putin will behave in the Arctic as he has in Crimea and other annexed areas of Russia, simply unilaterally taking control. His refurbishment of Soviet-era Arctic installations lends some credibility to this.Russia is actually resubmitting a claim made in 2002 and rejected for lack of scientific evidence. It wants the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain range that could contain 75 billion barrels of oil. Several countries claim it as a natural extension of their territory, and this time, Russia’s claim will be disputed by Norway (national animal the moose; national bird the dipper. Neither fit in the headline….) and at stake is not only territory but also mineral and oil drilling rights.International law allows countries to claim territory that extends from their “continental shelf.” Prior to the last decade’s rapid melting of ice, it was impossible to tell where the shoreline actually was. Now, however, it’s more clear but in the case of territorial claims, less clear.Denmark (through Greenland), Norway, and Russia share the eastern part of the Arctic region. The latest treaty on the region, signed between Norway and Russia in 2012, equally divided the Barents Sea with provision for joint exploitation of resources that straddle the boundary.Climate change has meant that huge areas of the Arctic, which were once covered in ice, are now exposed and available for energy extraction. And don’t believe that any of the countries racing to lay claim to the Arctic are doing it to protect the region: the right-wing press in the USA is castigating President Obama for declaring the northern edge of Alaska to be protected, thereby prohibiting oil drilling. Fox News and its fellow travellers say Obama is throwing Americans to the dogs because they will have to rely on Russia for energy if Russia is allowed to exploit and possibly destroy the Arctic oil reserves and US companies are not.Although its territory covers the western end of the potentially lucrative Northwest Passage, the US has limited territory in the Arctic. Canada, on the other hand, has a lot. Economically, it would be in our interests for commercial shipping to choose the passage through Canadian waters over the nuclear icebreaker assisted Russian Northern Passage, for moving cargo. Environmentally, however, the bigger the ships, the more threatened destruction. Do we want the region to become the oil field of the North? Definitely not.Russia seems prepared to back up its claims with force, as proved by its refurbishment of Soviet-era Arctic installations. But it’s hard to know exactly what Putin is planning, so we just need to be wary.Toronto NDP candidate Linda McQuaig has said that Canada’s future might depend on oil staying in the ground rather than being extracted by fracking or other methods. Just because something is there, doesn’t mean it has to come out.But, not everyone agrees with this, and ecological disaster is on the horizon.It doesn’t really matter in whose favour the UN decides the Russia/Norway petition: the “winner” will drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Indigenous people will see few or none of the profits. Plant and animal life will be disrupted beyond recognition. It is possible that irreparable damage will be done to this newly uncovered environment before we have even had a chance to see it all.Furthermore, although the US has demanded a 24-hour response to any oil spills in the Arctic, the Canadian government has declined to enact such stringent regulations even in the Shelburne Basin, southwest of Nova Scotia and thousands of miles from the Arctic. In keeping with the Harper government’s disdain for scientific opinion, our regulations demand a response of between 12 and 21 days…. Inexpensive for the government, but rather more expensive for human and marine life.