November 13, 2019

Melting Ice and Deep Waters: The United States and Deep Seabed Mining in the Arctic

Ekrem Korkut and Lara B. Fowler

On August 2, 2007, Russia used a submarine to plant its flag on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The goal of this symbolic move was to lay a claim to the potential oil, gas, and minerals below the Arctic ice. The Arctic contains significant amounts of minerals and hydrocarbons, including an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and 44 billion barrels of natural gas, long protected by ice. However, the Arctic region is now warming twice as fast compared to tropical regions, resulting in less formation of ice during cold periods, faster melting, and an overall reduction in sea ice. The right to access and harvest such minerals and hydrocarbons depends both on customary international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS or the Convention), Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397, art. 76. The race among nations to access what may be found on and under the seabed is significant and more fraught for the United States because it has not become a signatory to UNCLOS.

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