With President-elect Barack Obama supporting ratification of the Law of the Sea and Democrats unseating seven Republican senators in this month's elections, the U.S. moved a step closer to joining 157 nations including Russia that have endorsed the treaty, political analysts including the Century Foundation's Jeff Laurenti said.
The Senate, which must ratify any international treaty, ``is where the roadblock has been in the last couple of years when even President Bush was repeatedly expressing strong support'' for ratification, Laurenti, foreign policy program director at the New York-based policy-research group, said in an interview yesterday.
A rush to explore the Arctic was triggered by the region's melting ice. That has opened more access to areas holding about 22 percent of the world's untapped oil and natural gas, including deposits off Alaska, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates. Russia, a signatory in 1997, already has used the treaty's legal authority to assert its rights to mineral riches on its continental shelf in the Arctic.
[PRECISELY. ALL EXPERTS AGREE THAT MOST OF THE DEEP SEA OIL AND GAS TO BE EXPLOITED IS LOCATED ON THE U.S. CONTINENTAL SHELF. SINCE THE U.S. CONTINENTAL SHELF IS WITHIN THE U.S. 'EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE', TO WHICH THE U.S. HAS EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC RIGHTS AND CONTROL, CONSISTENT WITH BOTH CUSTOMARY INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE RELEVANT PROVISIONS OF THE UN LAW OF THE SEA CONVENTION (UNCLOS), AND WITHIN WHICH U.S. LAWS EXCLUSIVELY APPLY, CONSISTENT WITH U.S. FOREIGN RELATIONS LAW, THE U.S. NEED NOT RATIFY/ACCEDE TO THE UNCLOS TO EXPLOIT THOSE NATURAL RESOURCES!!!]
[THE ISSUE WITH RUSSIA IS THAT, PURSUANT TO THE 'DELIMITATION' PROVISIONS OF THE UNCLOS, RUSSIA HAS STAKED A CLAIM TO EXTEND ITS CONTINENTAL SHELF BEYOND THE APPROXIMATE 220 MILE LIMIT OF THE 'EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE', BASED ON SPURIOUS CLAIMS THAT ITS CONTINENTAL SHELF EXTENDS OUT FAR BEYOND IT. THE UN CONTINENTAL SHELF COMMISSION HAS ALREADY REJECTED RUSSIA'S CLAIMS ON TWO OCCASIONS BECAUSE THEY LACK SCIENTIFIC (e.g. GEOLOGIC) SUBSTANTIATION.]
Paves the Way
U.S. adoption of the treaty, which took effect in 1994, could open the way to contracts for survey companies such as TGS-Nopec Geophysical Co., which uses sound waves to map potential oil and gas fields, and drillers. BP Plc, Europe's second-largest oil company, already is exploring in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, adjacent to the Arctic Ocean.
``We would be interested in business opportunities there,'' Arne Helland, chief financial officer for TGS-Nopec, said in an interview today.
A London-based spokesman for BP declined to comment. Patrick McGinn, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil Corp., which holds leases on gas deposits in Alaska and is bidding for an oil license in the Norwegian Arctic, declined to comment.
ConocoPhillips, which is active in the Russian Arctic and is bidding to drill for oil in the Canadian North, supports ratification of the treaty, said spokesman Charlie Rowton. Chief Executive Officer Jim Mulva has written to U.S. Senate leaders urging approval because the accord provides the ``certainty and stability crucial for investment in global maritime enterprises,'' Rowton said.
The treaty, concluded in 1982, sets rules for activities from research and navigation to fishing and laying pipelines. One provision entitles country signatories to exclusive economic control over the 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) of waters beyond their coastline, and another to exploit the seabed beyond that limit if it's part of the continental shelf.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was never ratified by the Senate over largely Republican concerns that the UN-sponsored treaty would restrict U.S. decision-making on marine issues such as mining and seabeds. Opponents, including Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma and more recently Arizona Senator John McCain, also argued acceptance would undercut U.S. sovereignty.
[SENATOR MCCAIN WAS CORRECT IN HIS ASSESSMENT, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THE 45+ ENVIRONMENTAL PROVISIONS, REGULATIONS, PROTOCOLS AND ANNEXES WHICH SERVE TO UNDERCUT U.S. NAVAL NAVIGATION FREEDOMS OF NAVIGATION & INNOCENT PASSAGE OFFSHORE, IMPAIR US NAVAL TRAINING EXERCISES IN TERRITORIAL WATERS AND TO IMPOSE EXPENSIVE AND BURDENSOME NEW LEGISLATION & REGULATION BURDENS ON U.S. INDUSTRIES AND HOUSEHOLDS ON THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES. THE UNCLOS WILL REQUIRE RE-LEGISLATION & RE-REGULATION OF THE U.S., CONSISTENT WITH EUROPE'S PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE!!]
That roadblock has eroded with Obama's Nov. 4 win and with Democrats increasing their ranks in the 100-member Senate to 58 seats, adding seven who will likely support the Law of the Sea, said Caitlyn Antrim, executive director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans, a research organization.
[MS. ANTRIM - WE HAVE ONE MESSAGE - BON CHANCE!!]
More Than `Words'
Senate ratification of a treaty requires a two-thirds majority. Before the election, the treaty had the support of close to that level, Antrim said.
``An Obama-Biden administration will not just support the convention with words but with the actions that were lacking in 2008,'' Antrim said in an interview after the election.
Spokesmen for four of the seven Democratic senators-elect, including Mark Warner of Virginia and Oregon's Jeff Merkley, said the lawmakers are still studying the issue and cannot yet comment. Two additional Senate races are still unresolved.
Regan Lachapelle, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said it would be premature to comment on how the new Senate will act. She stood by her pre-election comments that the Nevada lawmaker ``is and has been supportive of the Convention'' on the Law of the Sea.
Arctic sea ice shrank to the smallest area on record last year, or 1.2 million square kilometers (460,000 square miles) less than the previous minimum in 2005, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden's role overseeing a report to the Senate recommending ratification should help even if economic issues take precedent in early 2009, Antrim said.
McCain's opposition to the treaty may shift, Laurenti said. Putting the election behind him allows McCain ``to resume his place as a supporter of ratification,'' Laurenti said.
The Law of the Sea is ``clearly the driver'' to making new claims ``because the rest of the world has acknowledged it,'' Mead Treadwell, White House-appointed chairman of the Arctic Research Commission, said in an interview last month in Montreal.
[UNFORTUNATELY, EITHER MR. TREADWELL IS IGNORANT OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROVISIONS OF THE LAW OF THE SEA CONVENTION, ESPECIALLY THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO EUROPE'S PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE AND TO MANY UN ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM MULTILATERAL ENVIRONMENTAL TREATIES, OR HE HAS A POLITICAL AGENDA AND REPRESENTS CORPORATE INTERESTS, OR BOTH.]
Obama has said Law of the Sea membership is critical to U.S. national security -- even if he opposed oil and natural-gas drilling in protected areas off Alaska that McCain advocated in the campaign.
[THE PRESIDENT MUST BECOME A QUICK STUDY ON THE TREATY BECAUSE HIS ADVISERS ARE NOT ACCURATELY DESCRIBING THE TREATY AND ITS IMPLICATIONS. THE FORMER PRESIDENT FELL SUBJECT TO THE SAME 'STORY-TELLING'.]
``I will work actively to ensure that the U.S. ratifies the Law of the Sea Convention -- an agreement supported by more than 150 countries that will protect our economic and security interests,'' Obama said in a September questionnaire sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences.
Though the U.S. could make claims to oil and gas in international waters outside the parameters of the treaty, no one will recognize such claims, which matters to oil, gas and mining investors, Antrim said.
[MS. ANTRIM IS ONE SUCH STORY-TELLER, WHO HAS A MAJOR POLITICAL AGENDA CONSIDERING HER FAMILY'S INTIMATE TIES WITH THE U.S. NAVY.]
``Banks and investors are usually pretty picky about having title nailed down,'' she said. All the countries with a stake in the Arctic ``are laying down plans'' for the future. ``It's about the next generation.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at email@example.com
Last Updated: November 20, 2008 16:15 EST