Saturday, January 28, 2006

Oil troubles in the northern waters 

In the whole election campaign, I thought Harper's dumbest moment came when he started talking about spending billions on Arctic icebeakers and establishing bases in the middle of the great white nowhere to form a thin white line against those bullying American subs. I thought it was just the usual election posturing taken to the n-th degree to impress us rubes.
But now I realise there may be more to it -- like, Canadian oil reserves, and international oil transport.
Thomas Walkom's Toronto Star article -- Harper's Arctic stand makes for grand politics -- refers in passing to several important issues:
. . . Certainly, the Arctic issue is serious. The polar icecap is melting, making it easier to navigate the Northwest Passage. Scientists warn that if this route were to become a well-travelled waterway for, say, oil tankers, there could be unwelcome consequences for the fragile ecology of the Canadian North. Unfortunately, for Canada, the U.S. has the better legal argument here. Other key maritime routes that pass through sovereign territory, such as Indonesia's Strait of Sunda, are treated as international waterways. Why not the Northwest Passage?
Perhaps even more important, though, are the simmering issues of resource ownership in the Arctic, as Canada, Denmark, Russia and the U.S. vie with one another for the right to exploit undersea oil and gas deposits.
Now, it starts to make some sense, if oil and gas deposits are at risk, not to mention use of the Northwest Passage for oil tankers. I still don't know if Harper's solutions are the right ones, but taking some action in the far north seems to be more justified.
By the way, I did find amusing this writer's comments that the US has the better "legal argument" -- so is the Bush administration actually going to put forward a position that Canada shouldn't violate some existing treaties, even though they themselves have abandoned numerous treaties in the past five years? And would they be running off to the International Court -- which the US despises -- to get these enforced?

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