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International

US claims huge chunk of seabed amid strategic push for resources

19:18, Sunday, 24 December, 2023
US claims huge chunk of seabed amid strategic push for resources

THE US extended its claims on the ocean floor by an area twice the size of California, securing rights to potentially resource-rich seabeds at a time when Washington is ramping up efforts to safeguard supplies of minerals key to future technologies.

The so-called Extended Continental Shelf covers about 1 million square km, predominantly in the Arctic and Bering Sea, an area of increasing strategic importance where Canada and Russia also have claims. The US has also declared the shelf’s boundaries in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.

The long-awaited announcement earlier this week maps the outer reaches of the US continental shelf, the country’s land territory under the sea. Under international law, countries have economic rights to natural resources on, and under, the seabed floor based on the boundaries of their continental shelves.

“It’s a huge deal because it’s a huge amount of territory,” said Rebecca Pincus, director of the Polar Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, which has devoted an entire web page to the ramifications of this week’s news. “It’s US sovereignty over the seabed floor, and so whether it’s seabed mining, or oil and gas leasing, or cables, or what have you, the US is announcing the borders of its ECS and will have sovereignty over those decisions.”

The US State Department said that the development “is about geography, not resources”.

The US, like all countries, has “an inherent interest in knowing, and declaring to others, the extent of its ECS and thus where it is entitled to exercise sovereign rights” it said in an emailed response to questions. Continued mapping and exploration will be needed to understand the areas’ habitats, ecosystems, biodiversity and resources, it added.

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