Norway hails Barents treaty OK by Russian Duma

* Duma votes to ratify Barents Sea boundary with Norway

* Norwegian oil and gas studies to follow final ratification

* Formalities all that remain after “big step” by Duma

By Walter Gibbs

OSLO, March 26 (Reuters) – Norway welcomed a Russian State
Duma vote ratifying a treaty to divide the Barents Sea into
clear Norwegian and Russian zones, bringing Norway closer to a
new oil and gas drive in the Arctic.

“The action in the Duma is gratifying, and is a big step
toward implementing the agreement,” Norwegian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs spokesman Kjetil Elsebutangen said on Saturday,
a day after Russia’s lower house of parliament ratied the deal.

Earlier this month, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens
Stoltenberg said Norway would begin a formal study into offshore
oil and gas exploration along the newly delineated boundary in
the Barents Sea soon after Russia ratifies the treaty.

Approval by Russia’s upper house, or Federation Council, is
considered a formality as it regularly rubber stamps initiatives
from President Dmitry Medvedev, who helped negotiate the Barents
treaty in Oslo and signed off on its terms last September.

Norway’s parliament ratified it on February 8.

Elsebutangen said the line, running between Norwegian and
Russian archipelagos most of the way to the North Pole, will
become law 30 days after Medvedev signs it and the two countries
formally “exchange documents”.

“We hope that won’t take long,” he said, adding that the
deal “will open the way for new rules on new opportunities to
exploit resources.”

The area to be divided after 40 years of dispute is about
half the size of Germany.

Seabed scans conducted by the former Soviet Union reportedly
indicated significant oil and gas deposits. Norwegian companies
led by Statoil (STL.OL: Quote, Profile, Research) have said finds there could help revive
national production that has been declining for a decade.

In the Duma the majority United Russia Party supported the
treaty with Norway while the Communist Party objected on grounds
that it could hurt Russian fisheries interests, Itar-Tass
reported. The final vote count in the Duma was not given.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Norway hails Barents treaty OK by Russian Duma