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Petroleum News: Canada asserts Arctic claims

Prime Minister Harper pledges action on sovereignty to protect ‘ever more valuable’ development of oil, gas and minerals

By Gary Park

For Petroleum News

Canada is determined to assert its sovereignty over land, water and ice off its Arctic coast, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during a visit to Nunavut Territory Aug. 12.

Challenging the refusal of some countries, notably the United States, to recognize Canada’s claim, he pledged that his government will regulate international navigation through the Northwest Passage, reinforcing its control over the valuable resources beneath those waters.

“This will become more important in the decades to come because northern oil and gas, minerals and other resources of the northern frontier will become ever more valuable,” Harper told hundreds of residents, politicians and military personnel at Nunavut’s Legislature in Iqualit.

“The economics and the strategic value of northern resource development are growing more attractive and critical to our nation.”

Harper: military will defend claim

He was emphatic that Arctic waters 200 nautical miles off the northern shore are Canadian territory and the military will defend that claim.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that the need to assert our sovereignty and take action to protect our territorial integrity in the Arctic has never been more urgent,” Harper said.

His goal is to ensure that Canada’s “jurisdiction over the islands, waterways and resources in the High Arctic is respected by all nations.”

In a later speech to military personnel on Ellesmere Island, Harper said sovereignty is “not a theoretical concept. … You either use it, or lose it. Let me be absolutely clear that your new national government is committed to using.”

One high-profile military exercise has just been completed in the Beaufort Sea and a 12-day operation is under way in the eastern Arctic.

The Harper government has also promised a deep-sea port in Nunavut and armed icebreakers as well as the creation of rapid reaction battalions across Canada to shore up its territorial claims.

Climate change expected to open Arctic waters to commercial traffic

A brief note to heads of Canada’s defense staff earlier this year said the “effects of climate change are expected to open up Canada’s Arctic waters to viable summer-time commercial marine traffic by as early as 2015. These developments reinforce the need for Canada to monitor and control events in its sovereign territory through new capabilities, funding and new tools.”
The prime minister conceded that lax enforcement by past governments allowed foreign vessels to enter the Arctic waters without the permission or even the knowledge of Canadian officials.

U.S. government vessels have entered the Northwest Passage without informing Canada, most recently in 1995 when a U.S. Navy submarine traversed the waters.

The United States has refused to ratify the international Law of the Sea, which establishes a 200 mile exclusive nautical zone off a nation’s coast.

Harper said that although some countries would prefer that the Arctic waters be international, Canada believes the Arctic is no different from the Atlantic or the Pacific, where Canada’s 200-mile limit is undisputed.

Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik said unregulated shipping would have a major impact on his territory, but infrastructure would stimulate Nunavut’s economic development of oil, gas and minerals.

Duane Smith, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said the failure to establish a federal presence in the Arctic has made the region vulnerable to claims from other nations.

Robert Huebert of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies said Canada must be able to “stop anyone from entering the waters that have not asked for permission and we also have to be able to take action against people who are doing things against Canadian interests.”

The United States, backed by the European Union, has argued the Northwest Passage, which shortens the Europe-to-Asia voyage through the Panama Canal by 4,200 miles, must be an international transit waterway.

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