Low-level tensions between Canada and the United States over sovereignty of an offshore sliver in the Beaufort Sea are moving from simmer to boil.
Canada has turned up the heat in the 30-year squabble by deciding to spend C$51 million over 10 years to map the Arctic continental shelf and asset its sovereignty to the area under international law.
In the 2004-05 budget released in March, Ottawa said the data collected from the radar mapping “will lead to a formal submission under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and help secure Canada’s sovereignty in the High Arctic.”
With potentially rich oil and natural gas resources at stake, including 54 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in both the U.S. and Canadian Beaufort, the dispute is building now that the U.S. Minerals Management Service has indicated it will offer development licenses to the area, including about 16,000 acres claimed by Canada.
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs has sent a diplomatic note to Washington saying Canada rejects the U.S. effort to asset jurisdiction over the area.
Cross-border volley last year
That follows a cross-border volley last year, when Canada formally protested the planned leasing out of the territory, even though the Minerals Management Service has indicated it would refrain from opening or processing bids for the disputed lands.
Herb Dhaliwal, Canada’s natural resources minister at the time, said he remained confident that the United States would do the right thing and avoid wrapping up details to lease out the disputed four parcels.
“This is a disputed area. It’s a disputed boundary. There has never been any leases committed to this area and we expect the U.S. will be consistent with that and, because it’s a disputed area, there won’t be leases put on that,” he said.
Within the Department of Foreign Affairs, officials are adamant that the United States cannot impose its sovereignty unilaterally, but say Canada will continue to file diplomatic objections to keep its claim alive.
“It’s a little dance we end up doing,” one official told the Globe and Mail.