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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Polarized Resource Claims

One of the consequences of anticipated global warming:

The Great Arctic Oil Rush, Editorial, NY Times: For a brief moment it seemed that Adm. Robert Peary and Dr. Frederick Cook had risen from the mists to renew their race to the North Pole.

On Aug. 2, a couple of Moscow legislators in a small submersible vessel deposited a Russian flag on the seabed two miles under the polar ice cap — backing up Russia’s claim to close to half the floor of the Arctic Ocean. Canada’s foreign minister, Peter McKay, dismissed the move, sniffing that “this isn’t the 15th century.” But just in case, Canada dispatched no less a personage than Stephen Harper, its prime minister, on a three-day tour of the region and announced plans to build two new military bases to reinforce the country’s territorial claims.

At stake is control of the Northwest Passage and, with it, what could be huge deposits of oil and natural gas in the seabed below.

In a 21st-century twist unimaginable to Cook and Peary, global warming — driven, in part, by humanity’s profligate use of those same fossil fuels — has begun to melt the polar ice, exposing potentially huge deposits of hitherto unreachable natural resources. ...[W]ith oil at $70 a barrel, the rewards of discovery could be huge.

Russia and Canada are not alone in the great Arctic oil race. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland and the United States also have a deep interest in the matter.

One thing is clear. To the extent that ownership can be determined, it will not be decided by photo-ops or even by planting flags.... It will be decided by geologists, lawyers and diplomats.

Under international law, nations have rights to resources that lie up to 200 miles off their shores. The rest is regarded as international waters, subject to negotiation under the Law of the Sea. A nation can claim territory beyond the 200-mile limit, but only if it can prove that the seabed is a physical extension of its continental shelf.

The Russians are claiming that the huge Lomonosov Ridge underneath the pole is in fact an extension of their continental shelf. And to show just how crazy this could get, the Danes are spending a fortune trying to prove that their end of the same ridge — though now detached — was once part of Greenland, which belongs to Denmark.

The United States does not find itself in a strong position. Misplaced fears among right-wing senators about losing “sovereignty” has kept the Senate from ratifying the Law of the Sea even though the United Nations approved it 25 years ago. This, in turn, means that the United States, with 1,000 miles of coastline in the Arctic, has no seat at the negotiating table.

President Bush and moderate Republicans like Senator Richard Lugar ... will try to remedy this blunder when Congress reconvenes. This would at least enable Washington to stake its claims to the continental shelf extending northward from Alaska. We may never need a share of that oil, but it seems foolish not to keep it in reserve.

    Posted by on Sunday, August 12, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Oil, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (15)

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