One of the world’s last land rushes is underway in the Arctic, and Canada is the latest to boldly assert its claim on the icy region and the hydrocarbons contained therein. According to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS), the five Arctic countries—America, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Russia—can lay claim to territory within 200 nautical miles of their coasts or, and this is the important part, their continental shelves (you can see in the map above the generally-agreed-upon 200 mile line, and the disputed region within). Last week, Canada submitted a claim to the UNCLCS that drastically expands its continental shelf by, as the WSJ put it, a size equivalent to “Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota all put together.”Canada’s expansionism isn’t done, either, as it plans to submit another claim to the all-important Lomonosov Ridge. That underwater mountain range nearly bisects the Arctic circle, and if approved would vastly expand Canada’s Arctic territory (including the North Pole). The Guardian reports:
The submission that Canada filed with the UN is essentially a series of undersea co-ordinates that map what the government claims is the country’s extended continental shelf.[Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird] said it was a mammoth task and the government needed more time to complete the mapping in the Arctic and get its UN submission right.“That’s why we have asked our officials and scientists to do additional and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the north pole,” he said.
The stakes here are higher than just bragging rights of who owns Santa’s stomping grounds. The USGS estimates that the Arctic contains 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and nearly a third of its undiscovered gas. Further melting of Arctic ice will make it easier to get at these reserves, and will also expose new shipping routes. Who owns what will figure hugely in to this developing geopolitical arena in the coming years.Moscow is paying close attention to the Arctic arena. Vladimir Putin just ordered his military to beef up their presence there, and is working to restore military bases there. Plenty of this posturing by both Canada and Russia is just that, done to look stalwart and busy back home. But as time goes by and the oil majors make more inroads in the frigid waters, this will become less and less a theater for domestic political plays.It’s important to remember that the US is an Arctic nation, thanks to Alaska. We have an interest in this fight. This is one to watch.