Melting sea ice is exposing untapped reserves of oil and natural gas in the polar regions of the Northern Hemisphere. U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Dave Titley said at an arctic conference in Norway that commercial shipping lanes could open through the arctic as early as 2035.
"We believe that sometime between 2035 and 2040 there is a pretty good chance that the Arctic Ocean will be essentially ice-free for about a month," he was quoted by the Financial Times as saying.
Titley said the Bering Strait between the U.S. coast of Alaska and Russia could one day rival the Persian Gulf and other important shipping lanes because the arctic sea route is as much as 40 percent shorter than conventional routes.
Environmental groups worry that rough seas and extreme conditions in the arctic could spell disaster if the region opens to commercial activity. The race for oil and gas, meanwhile, could trigger conflict between the coastal countries -- the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia.
Titley, however, said that wasn't likely to be the case.
"The arctic is not the Wild West," he was quoted as saying. "It is an ocean and we understand how to govern oceans."