When I headed recently to northern Finland, about 100 miles above the Arctic Circle, the last thing I expected my trip to deal with was diplomacy. I thought I’d see a lot of snow and ice, feel the cold and witness environmental peculiarities as a result of climate change.
But as I was sitting in a room at the University of Lapland’s Arctic Center, one of the professors there, an American named Bruce Forbes, mentioned in passing that several countries around the Arctic Ocean are pouring millions of dollars into research to prove that large parts of the Arctic seabed are a “natural prolongation” of their territory.
If they are successful in their claims, they will have the right to the oil, gas and other natural resources there. No one knows for sure what exactly lies under the Arctic Ocean, but estimates put that amount at up to 20 percent of the world’s energy supply.
After I came back home, I called the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs to find out what the United States is doing to prepare for its claim, which must be submitted to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf.
The head of the bureau, Assistant Secretary Claudia A. McMurray, told me that the department is spending $5.6 million this year on research, which has already shown that the foot of the continental slope off Alaska is more than 100 miles farther from the U.S. coast than previously thought.
The problem is that the United States doesn’t have the legal right to make any claims at this time. You can find out why in my story, U.S. pursues Arctic claim, which ran today.
— Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times