Canada, US commence joint Arctic seismic survey in the Beaufort Sea

By Phaedra Friend Troy

The governments of Canada and the United States have embarked on a five-week marine seismic survey in the icy waters of the Arctic's Beaufort Sea.

Starting on Aug. 2, 2010, the Canadian ice-breaker vessel CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent and the US ice-breaker vessel Healy have teamed to conduct a joint seismic survey of the Continental Shelf in the western Arctic.
Both the governments of Canada and the US claim territorial rights to the Arctic, and this project is an effort to establish the extent to which the countries claim. According to international law, bordering countries can claim up to 200 nautical miles from their shorelines.

Currently, five nations claim territorial rights to the Arctic, including the US, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (through Greenland).

“Enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the Arctic is a priority for our government,” said Christian Paradis, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources. “This third joint survey is an important example of how we are continuing to work with other Arctic nations to apply a science-based approach in our efforts to determine the extent of Canada’s continental shelf.”

The USCGC Healy will collect bathymetric data to generate 3D images of the seafloor, and the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent will collect seismic information, including sedimentary data, in the icy waters.

“Knowing where these limits lie is important because coastal states have sovereign rights over the continental shelf for the purpose of exploring and exploiting its natural resources -- including those resources on the seabed (such as deep-water coral communities or mineral crusts and nodules) and beneath the seabed (such as oil and gas),” stated the US Extended Continental Shelf Task Force.

This is the third survey of its kind embarked upon by the two North American countries, and the fifth for the US. The 2010 survey continues the work the countries performed last year north of Alaska on the Alpha-Mendeleev Ridge and eastward to the Canadian Arctic archipelago.

In addition to performing seismic work, the vessels will conduct single-ship operations in the Beaufort Sea.

“Canada and the United States need this data, both to delineate the continental shelf and to assist in the eventual resolution of the Beaufort Sea maritime boundary dispute, so it makes a great deal of sense to collect it as part of a joint program,” said Lawrence Cannon, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The two governments plan to continue these efforts again in 2011.

The Arctic is widely considered an emerging oil and gas province, and bordering countries are eager to lay claim to the region. Estimates of the Arctic's hydrocarbon potential boast 240 billion barrels of oil equivalent, whic is about 10 percent of the world's known reserves.

Drilling and production technologies perfected in the harsh environments of the North Sea, exploration and production present in the Barents Sea, and emerging exploration in the Atlantic Margin, as well as ongoing oil and gas operations in Alaska, have helped to transform the icy waters of the Arctic into an emerging oil and gas frontier.

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