Arctic experts to discuss border dispute

The long-standing dispute over where in the Beaufort Sea the Canada-U.S. marine boundary should be located will be tackled by some Arctic experts this week.

The long-standing dispute over where in the Beaufort Sea the Canada-U.S. marine boundary should be located will be tackled by some Arctic experts this week.

A group of academics and government officials will meet Saturday in Anchorage, Alaska, to discuss options for resolving the dispute, which results from an 1825 treaty between Britain and Russia.

As the treaty does not clarify how far the land boundary between the Yukon and Alaska extends into the Beaufort Sea, both Canada and the U.S. have been trying to claim 21,000 square kilometres of sea floor, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Both Canada and the U.S., along with other Arctic nations, have been mapping more of the Arctic seabed as they try to extend their Arctic sovereignty claims under the UN's Convention of the Law of the Sea.

"So for oil and gas, for fishing, and for this extended continental shelf filing that both nations need to make, it would be tidier if the dispute were resolved," Mead Treadwell of the Anchorage-based Institute of the North, which is co-organizing the weekend workshop, told CBC News.

"I'm not sure that means it will be resolved, but it would be tidier."

'Think about it'

The latest U.S. Arctic Policy, released last year, urges that country's government to resolve its boundary disputes.

"We're not sure that we can move this to the top of the agenda in Washington or Ottawa, but it does make sense to think about it," Treadwell said.

"We've recently seen some statements out of the Foreign Ministry in Ottawa that suggested now might be a time to consider it, so we'll see what happens. But in the meantime, we've got a small group of academics coming together to think about it."

One possible solution could be to divide the disputed region equally between both countries, said University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, the meeting's other co-organizer.

"Another option would be to declare what is called a 'joint hydrocarbon development zone' and jointly manage oil and gas exploration and the collection of royalties and other revenues," Byers said.

Making the area into a joint zone would involve both countries putting the issue of sovereignty aside, Byers said.

The results from Saturday's workshop will be sent to senior government officials on both sides of the border.

Byers said he hopes the information will help settle the Beaufort Sea border dispute, as well as generate interest in working out other Arctic sovereignty disagreements, such as Hans Island and the Northwest Passage.