Canada poised to lay claim to huge swaths of potentially resource-rich seabeds

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The old real-estate cliche about land, that they're not making it anymore, was never strictly true. Just ask the Dutch, or the Japanese.

And it definitely doesn't apply if you don't care that the property in question stays under water.

For Canada that's especially true because, according to Postmedia News, it's getting ready to lay claim to an area of seabed equal in size to 20 per cent of the entire country.

Postmedia reports Canada is planning to staking its claim to large parts of the continental shelf off the Atlantic and Arctic coasts, bigger than all of Quebec under a United Nations process arising from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Work has been underway for almost two decades that would allow Canada to assert jurisdiction well past the current 200-nautical-mile limit of "Exclusive Economic Zones" covering adjacent coastal waters.

But it's a laborious process, requiring governments to submit exhaustive geological evidence showing the claimed portions of seabed are "natural prolongations" of a country's continental shelf, Postmedia noted.

Federal scientists initially estimated that Canada could eventually claim up to 1.75 million square kilometres of sea floor off the eastern and northern coasts, Postmedia said.

The head of the massive mapping project is preparing Canada's final submission to claim the new subsea territories before the December 2013 deadline.

Scientists believe Canada's final proposal will be close to the initial estimates in terms of size.

"I can't give you a number, simply because I don't have a number - we have not calculated the number," Natural Resources Canada geologist Jacob Verhoef, who's directing the effort, told Postmedia. "But our preliminary outer limit as we are now defining it is pretty close to what we had expected."

[ Related: Hillary Clinton urges co-operation in resource-rich Arctic ]

The benefits of expanding Canada's territorial reach are obvious. There are huge potential economic benefits if Canada has jurisdiction over future exploration and development of subsea natural resources such as minerals, frozen methane or oil and gas.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has touted the Arctic's potential mineral wealth and its offshore resources as vital to Canada's economic future. But Postmedia noted previous Liberal governments have strongly supported the subsea mapping project too.

Verhoef told Postmedia the eventual claim submission will be thousands of pages long and include 25 separate scientific reports.

An executive summary and map showing the claim is being prepared for public release sometime next year, Verhoef said.

[ Related: Russia, world's worst oil polluter, now drilling in Arctic ]

Other countries have already acquired new subsea territories under the UN process. Norway gained 235,000 square kilometres of Arctic and Atlantic territory in 2009, while in 2008 Australia gained 2.5 million square kilometres — about one third of its existing land mass.