Differing interpretations of border may allow for compromise: experts
Randy Boswell, Ottawa Citizen, March 9, 2010
Just days after the Conservative government's throne speech pledged to resolve several outstanding Arctic territorial disputes, polar experts have revealed an unexpected twist in the long-running disagreement over the Canada-U.S. border in the southern Beaufort Sea.
The dispute has created a wedge-shaped section of the Arctic Ocean that both countries claim is theirs. Canada's position is based on a 19th-century treaty that extends the Yukon-Alaska land boundary out to sea, and the U.S. position is derived from an "equidistance" principle based on the shape of the adjacent American and Canadian coastlines.
But at a weekend conference in Anchorage, Alaska, where U.S. and Canadian experts in Arctic sovereignty and international law met to discuss the dispute, they emerged with a fresh understanding of the boundary battle that turns the whole business upside down.
They concluded that as the two countries pursue new seabed claims under a UN treaty beyond the disputed area, the U.S. would actually benefit from Canada's interpretation of the offshore boundary, and Canada would gain a greater share of undersea territory using the American approach.
The reason, says University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, is that the farther north the disputed boundary runs, the more Canada's Banks Island comes into play under the U.S. formula for drawing the demarcation line.
Until recently, the focus of the dispute was on potential oil and gas resources in the southern wedge of overlapping ocean.
According to the U.S. position, Alaska's northward-sloping coastline means the sea's southern maritime boundary veers slightly eastward, giving the U.S. a greater amount of marine jurisdiction.
But the overlap in the northerly expanse of the Beaufort would be much larger -- and reversed, with the boundary under the U.S. formula swinging far to the west because of Banks Island, giving Canada a greater share of the potentially oil-rich seabed.
"All of a sudden, we have this almost perfect opportunity for a win-win, negotiated solution," says Byers. "Regardless of which method you use (to determine the boundary), each country is going to get a substantial amount of what is the new disputed sector -- the perfect recipe for a negotiated compromise."
For the original text, see: Twist emerges