Loads of oil and gas under Arctic seabed? US-Canada search for answer

A joint expedition by the US and Canada is off to explore the resource-rich Arctic region near Alaska.

This is a continuation of last summer’s joint survey of the continental shelf. Russia has already put forward its claim on the seabed extending into the Arctic.

“We still don’t know whether there is a substantial amount of oil and natural gas underneath that seabed,” said geographer Brian Van Pay.

“There’ve been so few ships that went there to collect the data on the issue. We’re finding mountains we’ve never seen there before, so for the moment it’s hard to estimate the amount of these natural resources in the area, but hydrocarbons are likely to be in the Arctic.”

But why are the two countries spending money, time and energy on this research? Why is it now more important than ever, and what are the international implications behind the expedition?

“It’s not a race for resources, it’s not a land grab and it’s not driven by climate change,” Van Pay noted.

“It really comes down to an international treaty, the UN convention and the law of the sea," he added. "It outlines how a coastal state can find its continental shelf – and in this case it’s the continental shelf that goes beyond 200 nautical miles from your shore.”

Another thing that the treaty specifies, according to the scientist, is the 10-year timeline that each coastal state has to define its extended continental shelf.

“A number of countries came up on that deadline in May," Van Pay explained. "Canada’s deadline is 2013. So, this is a good cooperative that we’ve developed to meet this 10-year deadline.”

According to Patrick Tucker, director of communications at the World Future Society, this expedition is a delineation survey.

“They are looking at the sea floor and are reaffirming various geological objects that exist on the sea floor," he said. "And they are taking a look at the boundary and what exactly it looks like.”

Watch the interview with Patrick Tucker