US: Arctic Survey to Help Resource-Rights Claims

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), August 12, 2008

The U.S. State Department announced Monday a joint U.S.-Canada scientific expedition to map the Arctic seabed as part of an effort to claim ownership of underlying natural resources.

Arctic-rim countries such as Russia, Norway and Canada are trying to establish their territorial lines in a region that geologists say holds as much as a fifth of the world's undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural gas resources.

The race to establish rights over the resources beyond traditional boundaries have heated up since Russia has beefed up its Arctic presence and a Russian submarine planted the country's flag on the seabed under the North Pole last year.

While Canada's government is preparing a larger military presence in the region, there are renewed calls in the U.S. for the Senate to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international treaty that establishes subsea boundaries.

The convention says any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles from their shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that area.

Oil companies say they would be unwilling to explore for resources in the areas beyond traditional boundaries unless there is legal certainty established by international law such as the convention.

The State Department said the two expeditions to be conducted in August through October were part of an interagency effort to collect scientific data about the continental shelf and oceanic basins in the Arctic.

Russia's boundary submission to the convention commission was rejected by the commission earlier in the decade, and Russian scientists are preparing a new submission.

U.S. and Canadian scientists are preparing their own arguments both to lay claim to their continental boundaries and to prepare their defense against Russia's next submission, which may impinge on their proposals.

The U.S. Geological Survey - which is heading up the U.S. scientific team - earlier this year published its latest resource estimate, predicting the area north of the Arctic Circle has an estimated 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 90 billion barrels of oil. 

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