From Petroleum News (Alan Bailey):
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has weighed in on the debate about U.S. ratification of the international Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty.“I believe it is very important for the United States to be a party to this treaty and be a player in the process, rather than an outsider hoping our interests are not damaged,” Murkowski told a forum called “U.S. Strategy in the Arctic: Energy, Security and the Geopolitics of the High North” on July 23. The forum was sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a public policy think tank.
Murkowski said that without treaty ratification the United States could lose out on claims for vast areas of the offshore Arctic.
“If the U.S. were to become a party to the treaty, we could lay claim to an area in the Arctic of about 450,000 square kilometers, or approximately the size of California,” Murkowski said. “If we do not become a party to the treaty, our opportunity to make this claim and have the international community respect it diminishes considerably, as does our ability to prevent claims like Russia’s from coming to fruition.”
The Convention on the Law of the Sea consists of an international treaty establishing rules for all aspects of ocean use, including the rights of passage in or over ocean waters; the territorial sovereignty of coastal nations; the geographical limits of territorial seas and economic exclusion zones; and the environmental protection of the oceans. Provisions in the convention allow for the possible extension of a coastal nation’s legally recognized continental shelf beyond the 200-mile limit of that nation’s economic exclusion zone. On the continental shelf the nation would maintain sovereign rights over resource development, including oil and gas development. Consequently countries such as Russia and Canada that have ratified the convention have been scrambling to claim extended areas of continental shelf.
Although 156 nations and entities such as the European Union have ratified the convention, the United States has not yet done so. U.S. critics of the treaty have argued that the convention undermines U.S. sovereignty and that customary international law already protects U.S. interests. Some have also expressed concern about the potential for the terms of the convention to compromise U.S. security interests.
President Bush and Sen. Ted Stevens have both expressed support for ratification.
Murkowski pointed out that Canada is planning an Arctic military training facility on the Northwest Passage and that Russia has planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole. Russia is also building an offshore oil rig that can withstand extreme cold and pack ice, she said.
The United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia have adopted a declaration of cooperation in the Arctic that supports the Law of the Sea treaty as a legal framework, Murkowski said.
“The Arctic is truly the last frontier,” Murkowski said. “It is one of the few places on earth where all the borders aren’t drawn on the map yet and some of those that are, are disputed. While the anticipated claims do overlap in many cases, there exists an opportunity to address these claims and many of the other key issues in the Arctic, cooperatively and multilaterally.”
I feel like I’m watching the opening gambit of some huge chess game… Four possible endgames are described in the Arctic Council’s new report “The Future of Arctic Marine Navigation in Mid-Century“. Possible endgames include:
- “Arctic Race” – High demand and unstable governance set the stage for a “no holds barred” rush for Arctic wealth and resources. Russia develops the Shtokman natural gas field in the Barents Sea, signs an energy deal with China (while reducing oil and gas exports to the EU). The development of an “Arctic Development Law” attracts more qualified labor to the north by paying relocation costs, which results in poorly planned communities and congestion. The Arctic becomes highly militarized as nations seek to defend their claims. Political tensions increase and war is likely.
- “Arctic Saga” – Arctic resources are developed quickly but with international oversight. Populations migrate northwards to work on infrastructure projects and the ports of Nanisivik, Kirkenes and Murmansk are nicknamed “Zinc City,” “Cargo Town” and “Petro-burg”. By early 2025, the traffic along the coast of Norway from the northwest of Russia is 20 times the volume of 2005. The Arctic becomes a hub of activity for transportation and resource development.
- “Polar Lows” – The main events in the world economy taking place outside the Arctic. When the last polar bear dies in 2034, hardly anyone notices as they are too busy with regional conflicts to pay attention to the far north. Fragmenting ice has created increased hazards to navigation and made oil exploration and development too tricky. The Arctic’s 15 minutes of fame peaked back in 2010.
- “Polar Preserve” – Regulation and sustainability are the key principles for international administration of the Arctic. An Arctic Preservation Treaty, signed by most of the world’s nations in 2030, draws clear boundaries in the Arctic and establishes the “Polar Police.” Marine activity is strictly controlled and Russia postpones development of Shtokman because it seems too risky. By the 2040s advanced green technology makes development projects more appealing and the debate about them is renewed.