Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Under the Bounded Main

Somehow the urgings of the right wing that the U.S. charge ahead full bore (pun intended) with oil drilling on the American landscape ignore the largest estimated source of oil, the continental shelf. The rest of the world is fully engaged in wrestling over rights to that very source. As usual, our occupied White House goes after its own dubious ends while telling us it's going to protect us.

For the moment, I won't get into why we should do away altogether with all this damage to our environment, and switch to grass based fuel. Let's look at why we are hanging behind everyone else at the present conference on the application of the U.N. Law of the Sea, which the U.S. Senate has refused to ratify. And incidentally, the World Wildlife Foundation is on the record supporting that ratification, and yes, that is a hint.

The claim to possession of the Arctic underwater resources was brought into focus when Russia claimed to be the head honcho, and went on a dive to put up its flag. Wakeup calls should have sounded here, but didn't. Maybe our press couldn't transcribe GoPerv bumper stickers under 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Denmark will today launch an effort to calm the scramble for the Arctic, bringing together the five coastal nations competing for what are believed to be the largest unclaimed reserves of oil and gas left on the planet.

The gathering in Greenland begins in the shadow of a new "oil shock" as soaring prices force governments to reassess their energy policies and heat up already feverish interest in who owns the seabed beneath the Arctic Ocean. The issue has already been pushed to the fore as rising temperatures melt ever larger sections of the polar ice sheet and scientists warn that climate change could result in sea ice cover disappearing altogether within a generation.

The Danes hope the meeting will see all parties agree to a UN-brokered solution rather than a free-for-all over possible oil riches and commercially valuable sea routes such as the recently thawed North West Passage.

So far the race for the Arctic has been limited to posturing, with Russia deploying an experimental submarine to plant a flag on the seabed close to the magnetic pole, while Denmark has pinned its colours to the frozen Hans Island and Canada has conducted military exercises further into the frozen north than ever before. Both Norway and the US are thought to be considering their own challenge for sovereignty under the UN Law of the Seas convention, meant to govern territorial claims over the continental shelf.

The argument over who owns the Arctic has come down to a technical squabble over which country is best connected to one of several undersea mountain ranges that extend towards the North Pole. Under the 1982 UN convention, coastal states own the seabed beyond existing 200 nautical mile zones if it is part of a continental shelf of shallower waters.

The retraction of the ice sheet is proceeding ever more rapidly, of curse, making the exploration ever less prohibitively expensive. Some oil companies, such as Shamrock, almost went bankrupt not so long ago in drilling unproductive wells on our continental shelf. Most drilling is chancy and expensive, and many expensive drilling project turn up 'dry', a fact that oil companies have used to exact large subsidies from the U.S. government.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 pact establishing guidelines for ocean security and regulation, is presently up for debate in the United States Senate. But so far, a concerted push from President Bush and military officials has not been enough to secure the necessary votes for ratification. Despite a growing list of treaty advocates, which includes powerful shipping and environmental lobbies as well as influential military leaders, a core group of conservative senators are intent on holding up ratification.

The treaty was brought up for debate in 2004 and sailed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a unanimous vote of approval. However, the issue was never voted on because then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) declined to bring the matter to a floor vote.

Although the treaty kicked off its wave of support with an encouraging 17-4 committee vote, it may be doomed to the same fate for months to come. Opposition to the treaty from far-right conservatives has prompted fears that the treaty would bind the US to support an over-expansion of United Nations authority. In addition, presumptive Republican nominee for President John McCain has announced that he is withdrawing support for the treaty in its present form.

The Northwest passage has become ever more accessible, and has led to a conflict between the U.S. and Canada over rites of passage (the punning instinct is out of hand) and you will recall that shipping is a major source of trade.

Further, the treaty calls for pollution controls as well as control by international law. Now you see the problem for the right wing. There is no sovereignty allowed to the U.S. recidivists. They would answer to laws, laws that couldn't be ignored as they are under the worst administration ever.

All this public interest is sinking the Law of the Sea for the usual subjects. Responsibility for interests that aren't answerable to polluting, abusive, industry is anathema to the right wing. They can't leave office soon enough.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

sad, but very nice ruth.

:) Ozitsem

9:25 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

thanks. Diane and I have discovered you can find out things happening that are important in your gov't that aren't even mentioned in our standard news outlets, by looking in news sites overseas.

11:05 AM  

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