U.S. is spend­ing mil­lions in pur­suit of Arc­tic land claim

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ni­cholas Kralev

The United States is spend­ing $5.6 mil­lion this year on sci­en­tific re­search in sup­port of a claim to large amounts of oil and gas in the Arc­tic Ocean that it does not have the le­gal right to make.

The money is be­ing spent to prove that the foot of the U.S. con­ti­nen­tal slope off Alaska’s coast ex­tends be­yond the 200-nau­ti­cal-mile limit that any coun­try can claim as part of its ter­ri­tory un­der the U.N. Law of the Sea treaty — which the U.S. Se­nate has never rat­i­fied.

“Be­cause of [cli­mate] changes, ev­ery­one wants to un­der­stand what the im­pli­ca­tions are,” said Clau­dia A. McMur­ray, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for oceans and in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal and sci­en­tific af­fairs.

The re­cent ice-melt­ing in the Arc­tic has made the re­gion’s nat­u­ral riches more ac­ces­si­ble, and the race to lay claim to those re­sources is in full speed. But the po­lit­i­cally charged U.S. de­bate over rat­i­fy­ing the agree­ment raises ques­tions about the U.S. abil­ity to keep up in the race.

Canada, Rus­sia, Den­mark and Nor­way also are spend­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to prove that large parts of the Arc­tic’s seabed are a “nat­u­ral pro­lon­ga­tion” of their ter­ri­tory.

“We have $5.6 mil­lion in the 2008 bud­get to as­sem­ble both the hard­ware and sci­en­tific ex­per­tise to do this in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Ms. McMur­ray said. “We started a lit­tle bit later than other coun­tries, but we have a big coast­line, and there are some promis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Rus­sia’s plant­ing of its flag on the Arc­tic seafloor in Au­gust an­gered other coun­tries, but ex­perts say the only le­gal way to make a claim is through the U.N. Com­mis­sion on the Lim­its of Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf.

“Plant­ing flags on the seafloor ac­com­plishes noth­ing ex­cept for feed­ing the var­i­ous na­tion­al­ist beasts that seem to hunger for a re­turn to the 18th cen­tury,” said Bernard Coak­ley, pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Alaska’s Geo­phys­i­cal In­sti­tute.

To file a claim, how­ever, a coun­try must be a party to the Law of the Sea treaty, and the United States is not. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton signed the treaty in 1994, and Pres­i­dent Bush sup­ports rat­i­fi­ca­tion, but fierce con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion to the U.N. pact has blocked Se­nate ap­proval, where a two-thirds ma­jor­ity is needed.

The U.N. Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea has long di­vided U.S. con­ser­va­tives. About 155 na­tions have rat­i­fied the pact, and the treaty en­joys strong sup­port from the U.S. mil­i­tary, as well as lead­ing busi­ness, le­gal and en­vi­ron­men­tal lob­bies.

But in­tense op­po­si­tion from con­ser­va­tive groups who fear the pact in­fringes on U.S. sovereignty has de­feated a num­ber of rat­i­fi­ca­tion drives in the Se­nate.

One-time Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Mike Huck­abee, a for­mer gov­er­nor of Arkansas, made a point of his op­po­si­tion to the treaty dur­ing his cam­paign. Pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Sen. John McCain sup­ported the pact in the past, but has re­cently sug­gested he would seek changes in the treaty.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Repub­li­can and sup­porter of the treaty, warned two weeks ago that the United States stands to lose bil­lions of bar­rels of oil in the Arc­tic if it re­mains out­side the Law of the Sea ac­cord.

“I can tell you, if we’re not will­ing to claim it, if we don’t step up to claim it, oth­ers will,” she said in a speech on the Se­nate floor.

Ms. McMur­ray said the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion is “work­ing very hard, from the pres­i­dent down,” on sup­port­ing re­search, and there will have to be “a con­tin­u­ous con­tribu- tion to this ef­fort” in the next sev­eral years. First break­through

The ef­fects of cli­mate change on the Arc­tic was the topic of the an­nual Arc­tic Fo­rum, which be­gan May 12 in Wash­ing­ton and is or­ga­nized by Arc­tic Re­search Con­sor­tium of the United States.

Some of the sci­en­tists par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­fer­ence have helped Ms. McMur­ray’s bureau at the State De­part­ment and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies and have al­ready achieved a break­through.

In Fe­bru­ary, the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire (UNH) and the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased data sug­gest­ing that the foot of the con­ti­nen­tal slope off Alaska is more than 100 miles farther from the U.S. coast than pre­vi­ously thought.

The data were col­lected dur­ing a map­ping ex­pe­di­tion to the Chukchi Cap about 600 miles north of Alaska, con­ducted in Au­gust and Septem­ber aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cut­ter Healy.

“The melt­ing helped us, and we went fur­ther than we thought we could,” Ms. McMur­ray said.

Larry Mayer, the ex­pe­di­tion’s chief sci­en­tist and co-di­rec­tor of the Joint Hy­dro­graphic Cen­ter at UNH, is con­sid­ered one of the top Arc­tic au­thor­i­ties in the world.

“The kind of full-cov­er­age, high­res­o­lu­tion map­ping we do pro­vides crit­i­cal in­sight for meet­ing the cri­te­ria of the Law of the Sea Con­ven­tion, as well as the ge­o­logic his­tory of the re­gion,” he told SitNews, a lo­cal Alaska news site (www.sitnews.us), last month. What lies be­neath?

Both Ms. McMur­ray and Mr. Coak­ley noted that no one knows ex­actly the ex­tent of the Arc­tic’s riches, but Mr. Coak­ley said that “there is rea­son to be­lieve there could be sub­stan­tial oil re­sources on the con­ti­nen­tal shelves.”

Ms. McMur­ray cited es­ti­mates of the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey that as much as “20 per­cent of the world’s en­ergy sup­ply” might lie in the Arc­tic. She also said that, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent USGS re­port, there is more oil and gas in Green­land than any­where else in the Arc­tic.

“We have spent the last few years work­ing on the Arc­tic, ob­tain­ing data where we can, part­ner­ing with or­ga­ni­za­tions that work there, build­ing our ge­o­logic mod­els and as­sess­ing the po­ten­tial re­sources,” said Brenda Pierce, co­or­di­na­tor of the En­ergy Re­sources Pro­gram at the USGS.

Al­though the United States is co- op­er­at­ing with Canada, Green­land and its sov­er­eign, Den­mark, it has dis­putes with Rus­sia, which has the world’s long­est Arc­tic coast­line.

In early 2002, a few months af­ter Moscow sub­mit­ted its Arc­tic claim to the U.N. com­mis­sion, Wash­ing­ton filed a re­sponse, say­ing the Rus­sian sub­mis­sion had “ma­jor flaws.”

“There are many un­re­solved is­sues for the sim­ple rea­son that the U.N. com­mis­sion has not yet given any rec­om­men­da­tions, but only re­turned Rus­sia’s sub­mis­sion back to Rus­sia for it to col­lect fur­ther sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion,” said Timo Koivurova, pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of La­p­land in Fin­land.

A ma­jor point of con­tention is the so-called Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile un­der­wa­ter for­ma­tion, which Rus­sia says is an ex­ten­sion of its shelf.

“Oceanic ridges can­not be claimed as part of the state’s conti- nen­tal shelf, and the U.S. ar­gues in its re­ac­tion to Rus­sia’s first sub­mis­sion that this is ex­actly what Rus­sia is do­ing,” Mr. Koivurova said. Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has dis­putes with its fel­low Repub­li­cans in Congress as well. Its hands are tied when it comes to mak­ing any claims to the U.N. com­mis­sion un­til the Se­nate rat­i­fies the Law of the Sea ac­cord.

Ms. McMur­ray said the is­sue has be­come “very par­ti­san” and, “look­ing at the cal­en­dar” with a short­ened con­gres­sional ses­sion be­cause of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Se­nate rat­i­fi­ca­tion this year is a very long shot.

The pact is an am­bi­tious ef­fort to cod­ify and en­force the “rules of the road” on the high seas. It touches on coastal sovereignty rights, nav­i­ga­tion for com­mer­cial and mil­i­tary ves­sels, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and guide­lines for min­ing, fish­ing, en­ergy and other busi­nesses that tap the wealth of the world’s oceans.

Pres­i­dent Rea­gan re­fused to sub­mit the orig­i­nal 1982 text to the Se­nate, but treaty pro­po­nents say the changes U.S. ne­go­tia­tors won in sub­se­quent talks greatly im­proved the text and would lock in ma­jor ben­e­fits for both the U.S. mil­i­tary and U.S. busi­nesses.

Sen. Richard G. Lu­gar, In­di­ana Repub­li­can and rank­ing mem­ber of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, last year blamed the long rat­i­fi­ca­tion de­lay on “ide­o­log­i­cal pos­tur­ing and flat-out mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions by a hand­ful of ama­teur ad­mi­rals.”

But Sen. James M. In­hofe, Oklahoma Repub­li­can, warned that the U.S. “stand­ing in the world would suf­fer be­cause” of the treaty.

“No mat­ter how right we may be in our con­duct on the high seas, this treaty will give our en­e­mies the op­por­tu­nity to stand in front of the United Na­tions and crit­i­cize the United States for its un­will­ing­ness to ful­fill its treaty obli­ga­tions,” he said in an opin­ion piece last fall in The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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