Arctic race: Why Harper wants to call dibs on the North Pole
Published Wednesday, December 4, 2013 1:13PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 4, 2013 5:50PM EST
Canada is gearing up to stretch its territorial claim in the Arctic, an endeavour that's already taken a decade of work and more than $200 million in public money.
What's Canada asking for?
Canada has until Friday to submit an application to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for rights to a swath of the Arctic seafloor that covers an area of up to 1.7 million square kilometres.
This week's submission will be a preliminary one – but the Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday that Canada will follow up with a broader claim that includes the geographic North Pole.
How does a country lay claim to the seafloor?
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea governs which nations exercise what kinds of controls over the waters surrounding their territory.
Under the convention, a country can secure control of ocean floor beyond the internationally recognized 370 nautical kilometre limit if it can demonstrate the seabed is an extension of its continental shelf.
What's Canada's case?
Rob Huebert, an Arctic expert at the University of Calgary, told CTV’s Power Play that Canada does have a geologic justification for its claim -- an undersea mountain range called the Lomonosov Ridge that stretches north from Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.
Huebert said scientific evidence suggests that Canada’s claim to the North Pole is very strong.
“Absolutely, if you look at what’s been coming out in terms of the science, if you look at the distances involved, there’s no question that our claim or our submission should have included the North Pole and in fact gone substantially beyond the North Pole,” he said.
What other players are involved?
Russia filed its claim to the Arctic seafloor in 2002, and Denmark released its claim last week – their final claims are also expected to include the North Pole.
Moscow claimed territory up to the North Pole in a 2001 submission to the UN, but was told to gather more evidence.
In 2007, a Russian submarine made Moscow’s persistent ambitions clear when it dropped a
Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole.
Huebert said both Russia and Denmark have viable claims to portions of the Arctic.
“The reality is everyone is going to try and maximize the amount that they can claim. From what we know from public sources, I think all three countries probably have some basis for the science that they’re doing to include the North Pole. So it’s going to be interesting to see how ultimately all this bills out,” he said.
What's with all the interest?
The Arctic is believed to contain as much as one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered energy resources. Canada, Demark and Russia say they believe the mineral and oil-rich Lomonosov Ridge, which runs beneath the ocean and close to the geographic North Pole, is a natural extension of their continental shelves.
Huebert said Canada’s move to lay claim to parts of the Arctic is motivated by many factors.
“First of all bragging rights, of course. But the more important, and the part that really gets to why we’re spending so much money doing it and why the Russians and the Americans and the Danes are doing it, is the potential for oil and gas,” he said.
“We don’t know what is on the soil and sub-soil and that’s really what we’re claiming, basically gas and oil. But once we start looking at the types of resources that we are starting to find closer to the coastline, there is significant suspicion that you are going to find a lot of oil and gas up in that region and it’s that suspicion, of the amount of resources that are there, that’s really driving this entire process,” Huebert said.
When will we know who 'owns' the North Pole?
Not any time soon.
Experts say a decision on the Arctic seafloor is probably 20 years away. Just checking the science on Canada's claim will likely take five years, Huebert said.
But there’s no rush, experts say. These claims cover some of the most remote and harshest points on the planet, so commercial exploitation of resources remains a concern for the relatively distant future.
With files from The Canadian Press.