Mineral and Petroleum Resource Extraction in the Arctic Ocean – Conflicting Oversight, Governance and Rights

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Case Description
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Geolocation: 83° 28' 4.3678", 2° 10' 31.0547"
Total Population 44,000,000 millionmillion
Total Area 14,000,00014,000,000 km²
5,405,400 mi²
Climate Descriptors cold-climate (permafrost, tundra, polar)
Important Uses of Water Fisheries - wild, Mining/Extraction support, Other Ecological Services


With climate change shifting the ability for states, companies, and individuals to access the Arctic, conflicts over who has the rights to the mineral and petroleum resources under its seabed, how such rights are to be governed and exploited, the environmental standards for any exploitation that occurs in the region (if any), and who is responsible for what happens when a chemical or oil spill or other form of pollution occurs are growing. There is a diverse set of actors involved in the exploitation and exploration of mineral and petroleum resources in the Arctic. These include the five littoral states; observer states to the Arctic Council; international government and collaborative organizations enabled through international law, international cooperation, and indigenous group collaboration; research consortiums and informative bodies; companies who seek to operate in the region; and, environmentally-oriented non-governmental organizations.

At this time, there is little overt conflict between national actors in the Arctic, but the potential for conflict will only grow as the United States, Russia, and Norway continue to express interest in exploiting its natural resources. This may be further impacted by increased activity in the region by China. With its existing information sharing and governing bodies, international cooperation over the Arctic is likely to continue. By utilizing a mutual gains approach and the lessons learned from the Arctic Fisheries Devising Seminar, a peaceful, adaptive solution to how to extract the regions many mineral and petroleum resources in a safe manner can be reached.

Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework

History Only recently has the Arctic Circle been reachable by sea or air, largely due to the changing global climate, which has resulted in the sea ice sheet rapidly melting and the potential for an annual opening of a northwest passage for shipping. Prior to this opening, Arctic relations have been typified by international cooperation interspersed with military posturing. The majority of the recent cooperation has been through multiparty and bilateral scientific research, search and rescue operations, and pollution mitigation and abatement. Indigenous groups throughout the region have conducted subsistence hunting and fishing and have worked together to gain increased representation on the international stage. Due to shifting sea ice and increasing knowledge about potential mineral resources under the Arctic due to scientific expeditions, the five Arctic littoral states - Russia, Canada, United States, Denmark, and Norway - have begun to explore exploiting the mineral and petroleum resources within their accepted and contested economic and continental shelf zones. As could be expected, such exploration has not been without significant conflict, not only over who has rights to what resources but the right to access and use the Arctic and its many resources in general.

Geology, Geography, and Ecology Until recently, the Arctic Ocean was largely covered by year-round ice, with seasonal breakup near coastal regions in only a few summer months. Geographically, the Arctic is defined by a latitude line of approximately 66° N. The majority of the area within the Arctic Circle falls within the Arctic region, which is defined by the July 10 °C mean isotherm. Anything within this line has a mean temperature in July of 10 °C and is considered within the Arctic region. As can be expected, the region’s winter is often extremely cold except for along Norway where it is tempered by the Gulf Stream, with it summer getting quite hot. The region’s climate is rapidly changing due to climate change, resulting in significant reductions in sea ice and increasing ocean warmth (National Snow & Ice Data Center). Ecologically, the Arctic is extremely diverse – with much of these ecosystems facing rapid change due to climate change. The region has significant fish stocks and is seasonally home to migrating birds and mammals. The United States Geological Survey estimates that there may be 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,660 trillion ft3 of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural liquid gas in the Arctic – with 84% of this occurring in offshore areas (United States Geological Survey, 2008).

Social, Economic, and Political Context Scientific cooperation has a long history in the Arctic – with many countries continuing longstanding scientific arrangements even when at military conflict (e.g. Russia and the United States). International cooperation in the Arctic has been relatively animosity-free as the region’s governing bodies are tasked with all but regional security and military governance. For countries and peoples that border the Arctic, the Arctic is intrinsically tied to their national and local psyches. All of the Arctic littoral countries have significant indigenous populations, with the regional economies heavily relying upon subsistence hunting, fishing, and resource extraction.

Legal Context Three main treaties and international agreements govern the Arctic – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Spitzbergen, and the Ilulissat Declaration.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – UNCLOS The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the governing binding international legal framework for the regulation of commerce, use, and security of the open oceans and coastal territories. UNCLOS emerged from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) in 1973-1974, was signed in 1982, and went into effect in 1994. There are currently 168 countries that have ratified it (including all but one of the Arctic countries), 14 who have signed either the Convention or the Agreement but not ratified it (including the United States), and 15 observer and member states that have neither signed nor ratified the Convention or its attendant Agreement.

UNCLOS III included provisions on navigation, exclusive economic zones, continental shelf jurisdictions, exploitation of undersea resources in deep seabed areas, and the protection of the environment. All parties to UNCLOS must submit claims for contested extended continental shelves and exclusive economic zones to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). As the United States has not ratified UNCLOS, it is unable to submit claims to the CLCS.

Treaty of Spitzbergen (1920) Signed in 1920, the Treaty of Spitzergen (also known as the Svalbard Treaty) demilitarizes the Svalbard archipelago and states that any signatory (of which there are currently 45) can use the region to conduct economic and scientific activity. In 2001, a Chinese team raised the Chinese flag at the Yilite-Mornring Arctic Scientific Expedition and Research Station in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. This, combined with treks to the North Pole by Chinese scientific teams, started what has been perceived to be growing interest in the Arctic by China and other non-littoral states (Steinberg, Tasch, Gerhardt, Keul, & Nyman, 2015).

Ilulissat Declaration (2008) The Ilulissat Declaration of 2008 states that there is “no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean” as the five littoral states “will keep abreast of the developments in the Arctic Ocean and continue to implement appropriate measures” (Ilulissat Declaration of 2008). All five major Arctic countries have agreed to the Declaration and have used it to state that they will resolve territorial issues according to international norms and laws through UNCLOS, even though the United States has yet to ratify it.

Governance Context UNCLOS Bodies There are two main governance bodies that deal with resource extraction issues in the Arctic that emerged from UNCLOS – the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf - CLCS Set up in 1982 under UNCLOS’s Article 76, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) assesses territorial claims made by nations for extended continental shelf zones. It consists of 21 technical members who serve five-year terms and are experts in geology, geophysics, or hydrology. The Commission evaluates information presented by coastal states and recommends to the states whether or not they may lay claim to a larger continental shelf area. Before making a claim to the Commission, the country must ratify UNCLOS and every country has ten years from the date it ratifies UNCLOS to submit claims.

Extended continental shelf proposals take years to compose, as they must include scientific evidence detailing how the continental shelf extensions are actual geological extensions of the shelf itself and not separate features. The CLCS may make a recommendation but it does not have actual jurisdictional authority to decide disputes between states. Countries may only extend their sovereignty if they can prove that the continental shelf of their landmass is connected to the land in question – this is limited to 350 miles from the baseline of the territorial sea and cannot be beyond 2500 meters in depth (Zia, Kelman, & Glantz, 2015). At this point in time, the CLCS is reviewing an updated claim made by Russia and has yet to decide an additional claim made by Denmark. As the United States has not ratified UNCLOS, it has been unable to submit a claim to the CLCS or staff its technical panel with United States experts.

International Seabed Authority - ISA The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is the intergovernmental body responsible for organizing, regulating and controlling all mining activities in the international seabed area – which is defined as all areas outside of the limits of national jurisdictions (both extended continental shelf claims and extended economic zones). In its yearly sessions, it makes determinations on contracting with private and public organizations to explore and exploit mineral and petroleum resources on or below the seabed. It also maintains the Mining Code, which is the comprehensive set of rules, regulations, and procedures that regulate prospecting, exploration and exploitation of marine minerals in the international seabed area. In order to maintain its function, it also operates a central data authority, a legal database, and runs workshops and seminars.

Arctic Council Founded out of the Ottawa Declaration of 1996, the Arctic Council is an intergovernmental body composed of the eight countries that have territory in the Arctic along with Observer States, Non-Governmental Observers, and Indigenous Peoples. It is explicitly set up to promote cooperation and coordination of Arctic-related environmental and sustainable development issues among the Arctic states, indigenous peoples, and other interested parties. It explicitly does not deal with any matters related to military security. Throughout its operation, it has successfully negotiated and passed binding agreements such as the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. It operates a variety of task forces and ad hoc groups which include the Scientific Cooperation Task Force and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.

Member States: Canada, the United States, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russia Federation, and Sweden.

Permanent Participants (have full consultation rights in Council’s negotiations and decisions): Aleut International Association (AIA), Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), Gwich'in Council International (GCI), Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), and the Saami Council (SC)

Non-Arctic Observer States: France, Germany, Italian Republic, Japan, The Netherlands, People’s Republic of China, Poland, Republic of India, Republic of Korea, Republic of Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Intergovernmental and Inter-Parliamentary Observers: International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Nordic Council of Ministers, Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation, North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission, OSPAR Commission, Standing Committee of the Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, United Nations Development Program, United Nations Environment Program, World Meteorological Organization, and the West Nordic Council.

Non-Governmental Observers: Advisory Committee on Protection of the Seas, Arctic Institute of North America, Association of World Reindeer Herders, Circumpolar Conservation Union, International Arctic Science Committee, International Arctic Social Sciences Association, International Union for Circumpolar Health, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, National Geographics Society, Northern Forum, Oceana, University of the Arctic, and the World Wide Fund for Nature – Global Arctic Program.

Even though corporate non-state actors have a lot to gain or lose through the Arctic Council’s deliberations, they are often not mentioned or have any role in agreements made under the Artic Council (Duyck, 2015)

Arctic Circle Founded in 2013, the Arctic Circle is an annual Assembly founded in Iceland by Icelandic President Grimsson. It seeks to build international dialogue and cooperation on the future of the Arctic by actively involving government individuals and agencies, corporations, universities, environmental organizations, indigenous groups, concerned citizens, and other stakeholders. It runs annual Forums to build non-partisan relationships on specific topics: the first one was on shipping and ports while the fourth was on sustainable development. As a part of its operations, it has requested the Harvard Program on Negotiation undertake an Arctic Fisheries Devising Seminar, which is detailed below.

Research and Information Bodies There are a variety of international and extra-national research and information bodies that operate in the Arctic and on Arctic topics. The International Arctic Science Committee is a non-governmental organization consisting of international science groups that participate in Arctic research. It provides objective and independent scientific advice to the Arctic Council and other organizations on issues of science within the Arctic region. The University of the Arctic is a cooperative network of universities, colleges, and research institutions that look at various research interests and conduct education on the Arctic. Other scientific and information oriented organizations and institutions that operate in the Arctic are Cold Facts, the International Arctic Research Center, the University Centre in Svalbard, and the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center.

These groups act as informal or formal forms of joint-fact finding between state actors, institutions, universities, scientists, advocacy organizations and indigenous peoples. They have been instrumental in developing long-term relationships between researchers and scientists across the Arctic and highlight the importance of international and bilateral cooperation throughout the region.

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Tagged with: Climate Change Natural Resource Extraction Arctic Sea Ice First Nations/Indigenous Tribes Petroleum Extraction


Atapattu, S. (2013). Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, and the Arctic: the Changing Horizon of International Law. Michigan State International Law Review , 22 (1), 377-408. Barrett, P. (2015, September 28). Why Shell Quit Drilling in the Arctic. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-28/why-shell-quit-drilling-in-the-arctic Borgerson, S. G. (2009). The National Interest and the Law of the Sea. New York, NY: Council on Foreign Relations. Breum, M. (2013). Cold, Hard Facts: Why the Arctic is the World’s Hottest Frontier. Global Asia , 8 (4), 92-97. DiChristopher, T. (2016, December 13). Exxon Mobil could tap huge Arctic assets if US-Russian relations thaw. Retrieved May 2, 2017, from CNBC: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/13/exxon-mobil-could-tap-huge-arctic-assets-if-us-russian-relations-thaw.html Duyck, S. (2015). Polar Environmental Governance and Nonstate Actors. In R. Pincus, & S. Ali, Diplomacy on Ice: Energy and Environment in the Arctic and Antarctic (pp. 13-40). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Eilperin, J., & Fears, D. (2016, December 20). President Obama bans oil drilling in large areas of Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/12/20/president-obama-expected-to-ban-oil-drilling-in-large-areas-of-atlantic-and-arctic-oceans/?utm_term=.8409c6f01b44 Groves, S. (2011, August 24). Accession to the UNITED NATIONS Convention on the Law of the Sea Is Unnecessary to Secure U.S. Navigational Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from The Heritage Foundation: http://www.heritage.org/defense/report/accession-the-un-convention-the-law-the-sea-unnecessary-secure-us-navigational Martinson, E. (2017, April 29). Trump pushes to expand offshore drilling in the Arctic. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from adn.com: https://www.adn.com/politics/2017/04/28/trump-reversing-obama-pushes-to-expand-drilling-in-arctic-waters/ National Snow & Ice Data Center. (n.d.). Climate Change in the Arctic. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from NSIDC - All About Arctic Climatology and Meteorology: https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/arctic-meteorology/climate_change.html Pedersen, T. (2012). Debates over the Role of the Arctic Council. Ocean Development & International Law , 146-156. Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. (2014, September 18-19). Summary Report Prepared for the Devising Seminar on Arctic Fisheries. Retrieved May 2, 2017, from Science Impact: https://scienceimpact.mit.edu/sites/default/files/documents/AFDS_SummaryReport.pdf Steinberg, P., Tasch, J., Gerhardt, H., Keul, A., & Nyman, E. (2015). Contesting the Arctic: Politics and Imaginaries in the Polar North. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris. United States Geological Survey. (2008). Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle. USGS, Department of the Interior. Washington, DC: USGS. Zia, A., Kelman, I., & Glantz, M. (2015). Arctic Melting Tests the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In R. Pincus, & S. H. Ali, Diplomacy on Ice: Energy and the Environment in the Arctic and Antarctic (pp. 128-140). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Facts about "Mineral and Petroleum Resource Extraction in the Arctic Ocean – Conflicting Oversight, Governance and Rights"RDF feed
Area14,000,000 km² (5,405,400 mi²) +
Climatecold-climate (permafrost, tundra, polar) +
Geolocation83° 28' 4.3678", 2° 10' 31.0547"Latitude: 83.4678799444
Longitude: 2.17529297222
Population4,000,000 million +
Topic TagClimate Change Natural Resource Extraction Arctic Sea Ice First Nations/Indigenous Tribes Petroleum Extraction +
Water UseFisheries - wild +, Mining/Extraction support + and Other Ecological Services +
Has subobjectThis property is a special property in this wiki.Mineral and Petroleum Resource Extraction in the Arctic Ocean – Conflicting Oversight, Governance and Rights +