On Tuesday, Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Sergei Donskoi presented Russia’s revised continental shelf claim in the Arctic Ocean to the United Nations (UN) after more than ten years of complex geological research.
The claim was presented for the UN Commission on the limits of the Continental Shelf (the Commission), a body established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to evaluate and give recommendations on Coastal states’ claims of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. These recommendations are binding for the member states.
Under UNCLOS a Coastal state may claim rights to the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles by presenting scientific proof that it is a natural prolongation of its continental margin. In practice, this entails an extension of the Coastal state’s exclusive economic zone, giving the state exclusive rights to exploit natural resources in the seabed and the ocean.
According to Russian estimates, the area claimed contains about 5 billion metric tons of standard fuel. Despite low oil prices, Russia is heavily invested in developing oil and gas fields both onshore and offshore in the Arctic parts of the country.
Claiming the area under the North Pole
The presentation follows Russia’s submission of its extended continental shelf claim application in August 2015 .
The application claims that the Gakkel Ridge and Podvodnikov Basin, as well as the Lomonosov Ridge, the Mendeleyev Ridge and Chukotka Platau, are continuations of the Russian continental shelf.
All together, the application includes underwater territories with a total area of about 1.2. Million square kilometers. The claim of the Lomonosov Ridge includes the area under the North Pole, which has gotten a lot of media attention after a Russian submarine planted a titanium flag on the North Pole seabed 4300 meters bellow the surface of the Arctic Ocean in 2007.
Expects positive reponse
Russia originally submitted a similar application in 2001, but it was declined due to lack of geological evidence. Since then, the Russian government has been conducting geological research for the revised application that was presented on Tuesday.
Donskoi expects a positive reply to the claim:
- The materials we have presented have sufficient volumes of additional data, which we obtained during expeditions and research. They give us more grounds to expect a positive response to our bid, Donskoi said in an interview with the Rossiya 24 TV news channel.
Overlapping claims with Canada and Denmark
All the Arctic coastal states (except the US, who has not ratified UNCLOS) have the right to file an application to claim their extended continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean.
Part of Russia’s new claim is overlapping with a Danish claim, which have not yet received recommendations from the UN. It is also possible that there will be overlaps with Canadian claims, which have only submitted a partial application so far.
In situations of overlapping claims, the Commission will not determine the maritime boundaries of the nations, and will only provide a scientific location of the outer limit of the shelf. In other words, the Commission is not a forum for resolution, but parties to UNCLOS are still bound to settle any disputes by peaceful means.
Experience suggests that the Arctic countries want to cooperate and avoid conflict in the region by all means. This is exemplified by the Norwegian-Russian 2011 delimitation agreement in the Barents Sea over an area that had been contested for decades (previously called the Grey Zone.)
After the claim was submitted in August last year the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development said to Newsweek, “all Arctic Ocean Coastal states are committed to the orderly resolution of any overlaps of continental shelf and reaffirmed this commitment in the Ilulissat Declaration in May, 2008.”
In the Ilulissat Declaration the five Arctic coastal states reaffirmed their commitment to UNCLOS and to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims in the Arctic Ocean.
The Commission’s review of the application is expected to take 3-5 years.
Further reading in Norwegian:
Dragkampen under Nordpolen tilspisses