U.S. cannot make claims to outer continental shelf in Arctic as a non party to UNCLOS
[ Page 71 ]
Additionally, UNCLOS contains specific provisions for extended Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) claims. Besides massive deposits of oil and gas, the Arctic contains major mineral deposits such as nickel, iron ore, tin, uranium, copper, and other rare earth minerals. Every Arctic nation is accessing locations and methods to extract these resources.224 In the massive land grab for natural resource rich areas that has been going on between the other seven Arctic nations, the U.N. as detailed in UNLCOS is the arbiter. As a non-party, the U.S. is left out in the cold with respect to OCS claims. The OCS is rich in natural resources and opportunities for positive economic impact. According to the U.S. Geological Service, the U.S. Arctic contains 29.96 billion barrels of oil and 72 billion barrels of natural gas (about 33 percent of technically recoverable oil and 18 percent of technically recoverable gas in the entire Arctic).225 Although the U.S. abides by the rules of UNCLOS without having ratified it, it trails behind the remainder of the Arctic states on its policy and in asserting its presence in the region.226 Signing and ratifying UNCLOS, like Canada, would prove to be an excellent framework for shaping U.S. Arctic policy and advancing the current blueprint for the region.
Some may argue that U.S. does not need UNCLOS due to the Arctic Council and the active role the U.S. has taken. Despite raising awareness about Arctic issues, the Arctic Council lacks any regulatory authority or the power to address military issues.227 As a result, the Arctic Council is limited in overall effectiveness and accession to UNCLOS is a better avenue to assert U.S. sovereignty in the region.