NOAA has just gathered new mapping data in the Arctic. As expected, there’s a wealth of minerals and resources up there that should be under U.S. control but won’t be until we ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. In fact, the new data suggests that the U.S. extended continental shelf claim will be even larger than most previously thought was possible.
Of course, only countries that have joined the Law of the Sea can make such claims. That’s important, because without international recognition U.S. oil, gas and mineral firms can’t make the huge investments necessary to start drilling — and the U.S. government can’t help protect the fragile Arctic environment from further degradation.
Not a huge fan of dependence on oil and gas? Me neither. But environmentalists and oil industry reps. agree that our Arctic interests — both environmental and economic — are best served by putting our continental shelf under the protection of U.S. law, not left to Russians, Canadians, Norwegians and Danes to fight over.
Contrary to the arguments of Law of the Sea opponents, this is what real sovereignty looks like. Joining the treaty would give the U.S. exclusive economic control over resources 200 nautical miles from the shore line — that’s 4.1 million square miles, in addition to the extended continental shelf beyond that. We’re talking about an area bigger than the 48 continental United States combined. Ironically, the folks most obsessed with sovereignty are the least willing to expand it in what could be the biggest land grab in ages.
Meanwhile, we wait to see if President Bush has the stomach to fight the good fight. He’s already come out in support of the treaty. Now he just needs to get out in front to cash in on his investment.
— Scott Paul
Update: Andy Revkin, the world’s most knowledgeable reporter about the Arctic and climate change, covers this at Dot Earth, which has become a regular must-read for me.