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Natural Gas Tanker Could Be The First To Cross The Arctic During The Winter, Going From Norway To Ja
November 26, 2012
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natural-gas-tanker-could-be-the-first-to-cross-the-arctic-during-the-winter-going-from-norway-to-japan-feature1.jpg

Here's something we're probably going to see a lot more. A large tanker is sailing across the Arctic right now, carrying liquified natural gas.

The tanker - Ob River - left Norway about three weeks ago and is sailing through the northeast passage, past Russia on its way to Japan.

natural-gas-tanker-could-be-the-first-to-cross-the-arctic-during-the-winter-going-from-norway-to-japan-feature4.jpg "It's an extraordinarily interesting adventure," said one official from the company which owns the ship. "The people on board have been seeing polar bears on the route."

But sightseeing aside, this is about business and profit.

The tanker is expected to arrive in Japan in early December, in about 20 fewer days than what would normally be expected.

That's partly because of melting ice caused by climate change.

"We have studied lots of observation data - there is an observable trend that the ice conditions are becoming more and more favourable for transiting this route," that same official told the BBC.

"You are able to reach a highly profitable market by saving 40% of the distance, that's 40% less fuel used as well."

natural-gas-tanker-could-be-the-first-to-cross-the-arctic-during-the-winter-going-from-norway-to-japan-feature2.jpg Some of that potential profit is connected to Japan, where there is a growing demand for gas and other sources of energy.

It's been especially high since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, that followed the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In fact, one expert told the BBC that the growing demand for oil and gas in the East is a bigger factor in all of this, than climate change.

"The major point about gas is that it now goes east and not west," says Gunnar Sander, senior adviser at the Norwegian Polar Institute.

"The shale gas revolution has turned the market upside down; that plus the rapid melting of the polar ice."

That revolution is happening in the United States. Shale gas is a type of natural gas that is extracted from sedimentary rock.

natural-gas-tanker-could-be-the-first-to-cross-the-arctic-during-the-winter-going-from-norway-to-japan-feature3.jpg It currently provides about 20% of America's gas production, and by 2035, experts say that number could be as high as 46%.

However, there is still uncertainty about the environmental impact and just how many greenhouse gases it actually releases.

Some scientists have suggested that shale gas could have a bigger impact on global warming than previously thought.

Either way, as shale gas emerges in the U.S., European countries are seeking new markets - such as Japan.

That, along with the melting ice, is opening up new possibilities in the Arctic and sea traffic is expected to increase even more in the coming years.

2012 has been a record year both for the length of the sailing season and also for the amount of cargo that has been shipped.

The Ob River tanker can carry up to 150,000 cubic metres of gas. A Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker is sailing alongside it for much of the trip.

The tanker was built in 2007, and has a reinforced hull. It's owned by a Greek company called Dynagas and has been chartered by the Russian energy giant - Gazprom.

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