Greenland: Cairn Energy's Stena Don Oil Rig off the West Coast of Greenland, Which Was Scaled by Greenpeace Campaigners in August. They Hoped to Disrupt Exploratory Drilling, but Were Arrested 48 Hours into Their Occupation

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When Greenpeace activists temporarily halted work on a British-owned oil exploration rig in Baffin Bay, west of Greenland, in August, it brought to the fore the changing political and economic status of the world's largest island, and the mounting interest in the hydrocarbon potential of the Arctic Ocean. Following a report last year by the US Geological Survey, it has been estimated that a quarter of the world's undiscovered reserves of oil and gas are in the Arctic. The vast majority of this potential lies within the exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic Ocean coastal states: Canada, Denmark/ Greenland, Norway, Russia and the USA. The maritime areas off Greenland are regarded as promising and are seen as a potential source of future revenue by the island's government.

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Considered to be part of the North American continent, Greenland has a surface area of more than 2.1 million square kilometres, 80 per cent of which is covered by an ice sheet that is several kilometres thick in places. It enjoys the world's lowest population density: settlement is concentrated along the ice-free coastline, especially to the west, with most of the indigenous Inuit population engaging in hunting- and fishing-based activities.

Greenland has been a colony of Denmark for the past 300 years, although it was initially claimed during the 14th century. However, in 1979, it gained a new status as an autonomous Danish dependent territory with limited rights to self-government. In 198S, it left the EEC in order to avoid the imposition of fishing restrictions. More recently, a referendum in 2008 saw the $7,000 inhabitants edge closer to future independence. In the aftermath, the island's community assumed greater autonomy and the local government was granted an increased share of revenue generated from resource exploitation, including fishing, mining and future hydrocarbon exploration.

Geopolitically, Greenland was considered to be an important strategic asset during the Cold War. …

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