What Lies Beneath: The CLCS and the Race to Lay Claim over the Arctic Seabed
In spite of these efforts to raise awareness of potential adverse environmental impacts, these concerns do not seem to be slowing the push for Arctic drilling and exploration.67 In fact, "several prominent [U.S.] environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ocean Conservancy, formed an unlikely alliance with big oil and gas to support UNCLOS."68 This is because UNCLOS has provisions to help protect the Arctic environment.69 Thus, even though "pursuing oil exploration in the Arctic would threaten the region's fragile ecology,"70 environmental groups also see internationally organized territory as a way establishing a cohesive view that will prevent pollution in the Arctic.
Though the United States has not ratified UNCLOS, this does not mean that they are out of the running in the race for Arctic territory. Due to the lengthy CLCS review process, oil and gas drilling activity in the extended continental shelf regions by any country is likely a long way away.51 It also appears that the United States is not abandoning UNCLOS, and in "[p]rospects for the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea [continue to] improve."52 The stalled bill in the U.S. Senate has not aggrieved the energy industry, as "energy industry officials have made it clear to U.S. agencies that they are not interested in undertaking exploration and production beyond the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone without a firm international legal framework recognizing any extended claims."53 However, the prospect of the United States joining the game may be even more distant because the CLCS is far from a "firm international legal framework."54 For now, the only certainty is that the United States must make major political progress by either ratifying the UNCLOS treaty or attempting to resolve any concerns regarding Arctic lands in another forum. Further, the United States must engage other nations in order to become a major player in the Arctic territorial battle.
However, the melting of the Arctic ice cap is not a certainty. Although the Arctic may continue to grow warmer in the coming years,32 its climate variability-described as "decade long oscillations"33-indicates the warmer temperatures may not continue.34 In a nutshell, "predicting the future climate is risky."35 Despite the climate uncertainty, oil and gas exploration of the Arctic does not rely solely on the Arctic ice cap melting.36 In fact, a panel of experts convened by the United States Arctic Research Commission determined that "the exploration, development, production and transportation of petroleum in the Arctic will expand with or without climate change as prices continue to rise due to the decreasing rate of discovery of reserves elsewhere. Climate warming and reduction in ice cover will facilitate and perhaps accelerate the process."