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Canada speeds up race for Arctic resources

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Latest update : 2008-08-26

Canada is pushing forward in the race for natural resources in the oil-rich Arctic Ocean basin. A Canadian icebreaker will begin a scientific mission in the region. The United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway all claim parts of the Arctic.

Canada is stepping up efforts to stake a claim in the oil-rich Arctic Ocean basin that receding ice sheets are opening up to exploitation, but Russia is way ahead in the race for natural resources.
   
A Canadian icebreaker this week will begin a scientific data gathering mission in the polar region to bolster Canada's claims over the potentially oil-rich zone.
   
The Canadian Coast Guard's Louis S. St.-Laurent will join the US Coast Guard Healy in the Beaufort Sea, north of Canada and Alaska, on or about September 8 for the three-week joint operation.
   
The survey will use seismic readings to map the undersea polar continental shelf in the western Arctic, said Jacob Verhoef, director of Canada's United Nations Law of the Sea program at the Department of Natural Resources.
   
The mission's goals are not purely scientific.
   
The US Geological Survey believes the Arctic region contains 90 billion barrels of oil waiting to be explored and 13 percent of all untapped oil and 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas deposits in the world.
   
Five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean -- Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States -- dispute the sovereignty of the region's waters and their bounty.
   
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that any coastal state can claim an exclusive economic zone beyond the established 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers), if it can prove the territory is naturally connected to its continental shelf.
   
Interest in the economic exploitation of the Arctic has increased significantly in recent years as melting ice floes have eased access to the region's rich oil and gas reserves.
   
Rob Huebert, associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary and an expert on the Arctic resources issue, said Russia has taken a commanding lead in the race for the undersea wealth.    
   
Last year, the Russians made their intentions quite clear by planting a small titanium flag on the sea floor at the North Pole, symbolically claiming the area.
   
"The Russians are definitely putting the biggest effort into the north," Huebert told AFP. "They built it up more, they're further ahead on resource development ... and they also have the largest icebreaking fleet."
   
"They're ahead of the game on the submissions for the law of the sea" to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, he added.
   
Canada has until the end of 2013 to submit data on the extent of its continental shelf to the United Nations, and is trying to make up for lost ground, Huebert said.
   
Earlier this month, at the International Geological Congress in Oslo, Canada presented findings from a joint Canadian-Danish survey in the eastern Arctic asserting that the undersea Lomonosov Ridge is attached to the North American and Greenland plates.
   
The extension could add up to 1.75 million square kilometers (676,000 square miles) -- an area three times the size of France -- directly challenging Russia's claim to a vast portion of the Arctic.
   
Canada has every reason to cooperate with the United States in gathering scientific data, Huebert said, but that cooperation is limited because the United States is not party to UNCLOS.
   
He said Canada should try to convince Washington that it is in the two neighbors' common interest that it sign on to the treaty.
   
"The longer they stay out, the longer the Russians are able to consolidate their position to their advantage," he said.
   
The United States and Canada are at loggerheads over the fabled Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that climate change has made navigable during the northern hemisphere summer by melting the Arctic ice.
   
Canada asserts that the strategic passage, winding among islands of its Northwest Territories, is part of its territorial waters, while the United States and several other countries consider them international waters.
   
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put the defense of Canadian sovereignty in the Great North at the top of his agenda.
   
His conservative government announced last year that it was increasing its military capacity in the Arctic, including creating a deep water port in Nanisivik, at the northern tip of Baffin Island.
   
And military maneuvers are regularly held in the Great North, the most recent involving 600 troops in the Canadian Arctic.

Date created : 2008-08-25

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