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White House sees black gold in melting sea ice

Published by MAC on 2007-08-02

White House sees black gold in melting sea ice

By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY

2nd August 2007

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is worried about missing out on a bonanza of oil and other resources in the Arctic unless Congress approves a treaty that helps determine who has rights to the area's wealth.

Arctic sea ice has decreased nearly 20% in the last two decades as the Earth's climate warms, making access to the area easier. The eight countries bordering the region, including the USA, are now staking competing claims.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic seabed and subsoil hold as much as 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas. Other resources such as nickel and diamonds also are present.

The melting ice also has led to increased traffic from ships seeking a shorter route between Europe, Asia and the Western Hemisphere. All Arctic border countries except the USA have signed a 1982 treaty * that establishes guidelines for where maritime boundaries should be drawn and a commission for resolving disputes. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is necessary to approve the law.

Ratification of the treaty "is a top priority for us," said John Bellinger, the State Department's top lawyer. "We've been watching as other countries are actively pursuing their own interests."

The treaty stipulates that countries can extract natural resources within 200 miles of their coast. Countries can claim more if they prove their continental shelf extends further into the sea.

Adm. Thad Allen, commander of the Coast Guard, said the treaty is "absolutely critical" and will aid U.S. law enforcement by clarifying rules and jurisdiction.

The treaty was not ratified in the 1980s because of opposition from Republicans who contended the treaty infringed on U.S. sovereignty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty in 2004, but it never got to a vote. Current Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., supports ratification but has not scheduled hearings until the fall.

Some conservatives, including Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., continue to oppose the treaty.

"Right now we have total control," Inhofe said. "There's still a little sovereignty left in America. Let's hold onto it."

*editorial note: The US has signed, but not ratified the Convention

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