Start of arctic land grab

On August 2nd, representatives from Russia planted a Russian flag on the bottom of the ocean, two miles underneath the polar ice-cap, starting a rush to claim northern oil resources that has engulfed Iceland, Norway, the US and other northern countries.

Although Canadian diplomats have dismissed Russia’s claim to ownership of what amounts to half the ocean floor, the move has touched nerves in Ottawa. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper went on a tour of the north that lasted three days and included visits to two new military bases in the region, shoring up Canada’s claim to it’s northern territory and the ocean around it.

Russia’s arctic claim has raised the question as to the exact ownership of the Northwest Passage and, more importantly, the large deposits of oil and natural gas suspected to be found in the seabed beneath the waters. In fact, some experts believe that up to 25 per cent of the undiscovered reserves left on the planet could lie beneath the ice of the north. In financial terms, with oil being sold for $70 a barrel, the implications of such a discovery, particularly for a country with a solid claim to the territory, would be huge.

Canada and Russia are only two contenders for the potential northern oil reserve. Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and America are also interested in staking a claim.

International law states that resources within 200 miles of a nation’s shoreline are the right of that nation to claim. Beyond 200 miles, the Law of the Sea places the resources in international waters.

If a country can prove geologically-speaking that the territory in question is a physical extension of the continental shelf upon which the country rests, it can claim resources beyond the 200 mile limit, leading to the debate as to who exactly owns the northern oil.

Russia submitted such a claim to an international commission in 2001 but the evidence was insufficient to support their claim. Denmark is now in the process of putting together their case, claiming that the detached ridge of land under the ocean in question was once part of Greenland.