Never before has so much cargo been shipped along the Northern Sea Route

First ever tanker loaded with liquid natural gas (LNG) sails the Northern Sea Route with gas from Norway to energy hungry Japan. “New development,” says Gunnar Sander with the Norwegian Polar Institute.

“This voyage is interesting because it shows how the shale gas has turned the gas market upside down,” says Senior Researcher Gunnar Sander. He coordinates a project aimed at studying how climate changes impact economic activity that may take place in the Arctic Ocean.

The tanker “Ob River” has loaded LNG from Statoil’s gas plant on the Barents Sea coast for the last few days. The plant, opened in 2007, was believed to ship major part of its LNG to the North American market. With commercial exploration of domestic shale gas, the US hunger for LNG disappeared. Hammerfest gas plant had to search for new markets.

Being the world’s northernmost LNG plant, its remote location could have been a disadvantage when searching for new customers. Not so for this week’s cargo. With rapid melting sea ice, Hammerfest LNG is located at the entrance gate for a possible new shipping route near the top of the globe to the energy hungry markets in Asia. The distance to Japan is nearly half via the north compared with sailing the more traditional Suez Canal route. The Northern Sea Route is estimated to save up to 20 days for the distance Hammerfest to Japan.

“It is too early to say how this will boost off in number of voyages. First, more ice-classed LNG-tankers should be built. But, the markets in Japan and Asia is for sure interesting,” argues Gunnar Sander.

The LNG-tanker will be escorted by Russian nuclear powered icebreakers for most of the route along the north coast of Siberia. The 2012 season for sailing the route will be historical for two reasons; never before has the sailing season been so long – and never before has so much cargo been shipped along the route.

Read more of this article and others related to the NSR and Arctic development here

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