The Washington Times - August 11, 2008, 05:23PM

Some may call it warming up the pan on the stove while the fish are still swimming freely in the sea.

But the Bush administration thinks there is no time to waste in finding out what lies beneath the Arctic Ocean, so the United States can claim some of those natural resources, even though it doesn’t have the legal right to make any such claims at this time.

As I reported in May, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway are spending tens of millions of dollars to to prove that large parts of the Arctic seabed are a “natural prolongation” of their territory. To claim natural resources, however, a country must be a party to the Law of the Sea treaty, and the United States is not.

Still, the State Department said Monday that two more scientific expeditions will head to Alaska this summer to collect data “in support of defining the limits of [the Arctic’s] extended continental shelf” for the fourth year in a row.

“The first cruise, Aug. 14 to Sept. 5 from Barrow, Alaska, will employ a sophisticated echo sounder that will collect data to create a three-dimensional map of the Arctic seafloor in an area known as the Chukchi Cap,” the department said. “The second cruise, September 6 to October 1, also from Barrow, will be conducted in cooperation with Canada.”

As Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain debate off-shore drilling, the Bush administration is sending the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, loaded with top-notch equipment and first-rate scientists, to learn how much oil, gas and other resources there might be under the Arctic Ocean to relieve the country’s much talked-about dependence on foreign oil in the future.

The State Department chairs the so-called Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, which also includes the Executive Office of the President, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Science Foundation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Navy, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Minerals Management Service and the Arctic Research Commission.

— Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times