Who Owns The Ocean’s Bounty?

oil platformBy  Mark Kneubuhl –

(May 25, 2012)  The Congress has become a dam in the American river of progress.  Inaction has become status quo while a growing division in political ideology has rendered the institution impotent.

Case in point:

Beginning around the time of NAFTA, the United States dove head-first into that bigger ocean we now refer to as, The Global Economy.  So why is it that the US has been dragging its flippers and not joining the rest of the world in signing and ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea?

The safe and publicized answer to that question is self-interest, which is fine where the interest of the whole are concerned.  But whose self-interest are we talking about?

Referred to as The Law of the Sea Treaty, it was signed and ratified by 162 states in 1994.  Sixteen additional countries have signed, but not ratified the treaty, while 18 countries –including the United States have done neither.

The US, along with most all governments have adopted previous treaties, which were the foundation of this most recent document.  Dating back to the 1930s, the treaty established sovereignty over a 12-mile territorial limit and later established a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Today’s treaty includes amendments governing the relationship between nations beyond their respective EEZs, including the creation of a legal organization for controlling mineral resource exploitation in deep seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction.

For the past three decades, both Republican and Democratic presidents have push for ratification, only to be blocked by a group of conservative senators from states including Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Texas, who believe that the US would be giving up some of its sovereignty by joining the planet in support of the document.

The excuse suggests that the United States presently has a greater degree of sovereignty over international waters than any other country!

The government has expressed its “extreme interest” in regard to the melting of the arctic ice and as a consequent, new access to its mineral resources, including oil and gas.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey argued before the Senate that ‘America’s national strategic interests continue to be adversely affected by the absence of U.S. participation in Law of the Sea deliberations.’

The UN has no direct role in the implementation of the Convention. There is, however, an operational role played by various existing organizations, and the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which was established by the treaty.

The main purpose of the ISA is to authorize seabed exploration and mining and collect and distribute the seabed mining royalty.

Prior to 1994, the United States objected to the ISA provision on several grounds, arguing that the treaty was unfavorable to American interests.  The resulting 1994 Agreement was adopted, excluding these provisions. It also guaranteed the US a seat on the ISA Council, if it signed up.

Nearly two decades have passed but still no signature from the United States, largely because of a handful of Senators.

Could oil have anything to do with it? Earlier this year, 9 of the 10 senators from Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Texas supported continued tax breaks and subsidies for big oil. Orrin Hatch (R-Ut), didn’t vote.

Oil companies have resisted all form of government regulation since the day John D. Rockefeller first stuck his shovel in the dirt. The signing of the current Law of the Sea Treaty would be to acknowledge that mineral resources (oil) found in international waters are a global asset.

I can’t see the Big-5 oil companies passively going along with this. And maybe they haven’t!

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Posted by at May 25, 2012
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