The Norwegian town of Kirkenes, on the far northern border with Russia, is on the cusp of becoming an oil boom town. But, asks Colin Freeman, will the world play fair for the Arctic’s spoils?
In his shipping agency overlooking the chilly harbour waters at Kirkenes in northern Norway, Arve Henriksen draws a finger down the long, red-inked line on his desk map. Stretching up through the icy Barents Sea, it marks what may be one of the world’s last great territorial carve ups: an agreement between Norway and Russia, struck last year after 40 years of squabbling, over where each country has rights to hunt for vast oil and gas deposits.
To the 10,000 residents of Kirkenes, who are on the cusp of becoming a boom town, it’s known politely as the “demarcation line”. To the rest of the world, which is watching closely and enviously, it’s a flying start in the “Scramble for the Arctic”, where a quarter of world’s dwindling fuel reserves are now thought to lie.
“Kirkenes’ future is certainly bright,” said Mr Henriksen, 45, who, in a previous career, ran Kirkenes’ only record shop owner and put on the world’s northernmost blues festival. He switched to the more lucrative business of shipping 13 years ago, and having started out revamping old Soviet-era Russian trawlers, now gets 50 per cent of his trade from equipping seismic exploration vessels.