2007 September 02 Sunday
High Oil Prices Cause Arctic Ocean Sovereignty Rush

Whoever said that governments are insensitive to market forces? Watch national governments chase after oil.

In the Arctic this week, researchers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy are mapping claims to the spoils of global warming.

North of Alaska, the 23 scientists of the Healy are gathering the data legally required to extend national territories across vast reaches of the mineral-rich seafloor usually blocked by Arctic ice. Fathom by fathom, multibeam sonar sensors mounted on the Healy's hull chart a submerged plateau called the Chukchi Cap, in a region that may contain 25% of the world's reserves of oil and natural gas.

Conflicting claims of different nations?

All told, the undersea territories being mapped by the U.S. encompass an area larger than France. "It holds potential riches beyond your imagination" through sea-floor mining and drilling, said UNH marine geologist James Gardner, who has mapped 347,000 square miles of ocean bottom as part of the U.S. Law of the Sea project. In all, maps are being prepared for eight major extensions of U.S. seafloor authority, including several areas in the Arctic also claimed by Russia and, perhaps, Canada.

Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark (due to possession of Greenland), and Norway are all interested in expanding their territorial claims northward.

A Russian sub planted the Russian flag on the underwater Lomonosov Ridge which Russia's government has claimed.

Last month Russia sparked a rush to claim territory by symbolically planting a rust-proof titanium flag on the sea bed, while seeking evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,200-mile, underwater mountain range running close to the Pole, was a geographical extension of Siberia.

The mission followed a speech by President Vladimir Putin, urging greater efforts to secure Russia's "strategic, economic, scientific and defence interests" in the Arctic.

Canada pretends to be pacifistic and environmentalist until visions of massive wealth overwhelm all pretenses.

An international scramble for the Arctic's oil and gas resources accelerated yesterday when Canada responded to Russia's recent sovereignty claims with a plan to build two military bases in the region.

On a trip to the far north, the prime minister, Stephen Harper, said: "Canada's new government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is: use it or lose it. Today's announcements tell the world that Canada has a real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic."

The Russians say the Lomonosov Ridge is obviously an extension of Russia.

Russian deep-sea submersibles reached the seabed of the Arctic Ocean and scooped samples of the Lomonosov Ridge earlier in July and August. The effort is part of a unique scientific expedition carried out by Russian polar explorers in 2007. The preliminary results of a research into the samples obtained on August 2, 2007, indicate that the Lomonosov Ridge is “a geological extension of the Siberian continental platform, and therefore the region is a continuation of the Russian plateau,” said Viktor Posyolov, deputy director of the Institute of World Ocean Geology and Mineral Resources of Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

Alexander Voronov of the Russian publication Kommersant says competing claims for extension of sovereign zones into the Arctic are unlikely to conflict.

Even if Russia is able to obtain proof acceptable to the UN, it will not receive the 1.2-million sq. km. ridge, as politicians are counting on. Under article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Russia ratified in 1997, the country can expect only 350 miles of the continental shelf from the northernmost point of dry land. That was confirmed for Kommersant by a source at VNIIOceangeology and by Lobkovsky. Considering that the Russian economic zone already extends 200 miles from the northern shores, even if the UN experts are favorably inclined, Russia will receive not all of the Arctic, but only 150 additional miles of it from its territory (about 277 km.). Canada, the U.S. and Denmark are claiming their 350-mile pieces of the Artic as well, which do not intersect with Russia's in any way. This makes the politicians' statements about a war for the Arctic heavily exaggerated.

With so many countries interested oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean seems inevitable.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 September 02 12:38 AM  Economics Energy

John S Bolton said at September 2, 2007 3:40 AM:

This is one area where the national interests in 'use it or lose it' could accelerate
the development of resources which would otherwise wait for the cheaper-to-produce mideastern ones
to deplete more. Governments may rush to guarantee minimum prices sufficient to
get several large sectors started. This risks large subsidy, but may be considered worth it,
since a few producing fields effectively claim a much a larger area reserved for the future.

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