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Cracks in the Ice: The Need For a Review of the Legal Status of the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf

Reg Fowler, International Mining and Oil & Gas Law, Development, and Investment (2011)

The purpose of this paper is to provide a thought-provoking, but not exhaustive, legal risk assessment for hydrocarbon exploration in Arctic waters. It focuses on the potential for unintended consequences in the exploitation of the continental shelves of the region's coastal states. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea imaginatively created the opportunity for coastal states to exploit the nonliving resources of their continental shelves beyond the limit of their exclusive economic zones. Unfortunately, other conventions have not shared the same imagination and have left this “hybrid” area uncovered. As the pressure for exploitation of the Arctic increases, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the International Seabed Authority will find themselves overstretched in trying to “plug” these legislative gaps as ever increasing cracks appear in the system of international law which supposedly covers the Arctic and other expanses of Ocean beyond any state's Exclusive Economic Zone.

Hydrocarbon resources and the Arctic Sea

The last 12 months have seen a series of significant events which have cast the last few hydrocarbon bearing wildernesses of the planet in a new and meaningful light. The first such event was the loss of the “Deep Water Horizon” oil rig executing a well 18,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. The sec