Russia stakes claim on oil-rich Arctic –

 

TIMES ONLINE       September 18, 2008

Russia triggered a fresh scramble for the oil wealth of the Arctic today after President Dmitri Medvedev called on security chiefs to establish a formal border in the region. Mr Medvedev laid claim to a vast tranche of the Arctic, telling his National Security Council that it had “strategic importance” for Russia. Estimates suggest that the polar region contains billions of tons of oil and gas reserves, which are increasingly accessible as global warming melts the ice cap. “We must wrap up all the formalities for drawing the external border in the continental shelf. This is our direct responsibility to future generations,” Mr Medvedev told the Kremlin meeting. The Federal Security Service under Mr Patrushev created a special Arctic Directorate in 2004 to further Russian interests in the region. He even flew to the North Pole to plant a Russian flag.

The order to assert the Kremlin’s rights came just over a year after a team of Russian explorers became the first to reach the Arctic seabed. They dived 4,261 metres (13,980ft) in two mini-submarines and planted a titanium flag on the ocean floor to stake Russia’s claim to an area of territory the size of Western Europe.

The expedition brought back soil samples as part of Russia’s campaign to demonstrate that the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater shelf that runs through the Arctic, is an extension of its territory. Russia lodged a claim in 2001 to 463,000 square miles (1.2 million sq km) of the Arctic ocean with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The UN asked for more scientific data and Russia is planning to submit a fresh application next year.

Canada, Norway, the US and Denmark – which has sovereignty over Greenland – all reject Russia’s arguments. Denmark and Canada claim that the Lomonosov Ridge is linked to their territories, while Norway is conducting a survey to strengthen its case. Under international law each country is entitled to control an economic zone within 200 miles of its continental shelf, but the limits of the shelf are disputed.

Canada’s then Foreign Minister, Peter MacKay, dismissed the Russian expedition as a throwback to 15th-century imperialism, saying: “You can’t go around the world and plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory’.”

Russia’s descent to the seabed unnerved its rivals, however, by demonstrating its ability to enforce a physical presence in the hostile Arctic environment.

 

Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the council, said that Russia would defend its interests in the Arctic against rival claims from the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark. “We must define the borders in the north of our country, where the Arctic lies. Our estimate is that it makes up 18 per cent of our territory. And we are saying that 20,000km of the state border runs in this region.”

On Russia, Oil, Energy,The Artic Circle and Foriegn Policy – Part 2

Telegraph.co.uk

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
Last Updated: 12:23AM BST 18 May 2008

Canada Claims : Russia is annexing Artic area for Oil Reserves. 

The battle for “ownership” of the polar oil reserves has accelerated with the disclosure that Russia has sent a fleet of nuclear-powered ice breakers into the Arctic.

It has reinforced fears that Moscow intends to annex “unlawfully” a vast portion of the ice-covered Arctic, beneath which scientists believe up to 10 billion tons of gas and oil could be buried. Russian ambition for control of the Arctic has provoked Canada to double to $40 million (£20.5 million) funding for work to map the Arctic seabed in support its claim over the territory.

The Russian ice breakers patrol huge areas of the frozen ocean for months on end, cutting through ice up to 8ft thick. There are thought to be eight in the region, dwarfing the British and American fleets, neither of which includes nuclear-powered ships.

Canada also plans to open an army training centre for cold-weather fighting at Resolute Bay and a deep-water port on the northern tip of Baffin Island, both of which are close to the disputed region. The country’s defence ministry intends to build a special fleet of patrol boats to guard the North West Passage.

The crisis has raised the spectre of Russia and the West joining in a new cold war over the Arctic unless the United Nations can resolve the dispute.

Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, told Telegraph: “Four of the five Arctic powers are Nato members, yet Nato seems ill-configured to be able to respond to the sort of activities we have seen from the Russians. We need to ensure Nato has the will and the capability to deter Russian activity that contravenes international laws or treaties.”

Jonathan Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute, said the dispute could simmer for years. “The message from Vladimir Putin is that Russia will no longer be shackled to treaties signed by Yeltsin when he was half drunk or when Russia was on its knees,” he said. “This dispute is not only about oil reserves which might or might not exist, it is about the control of sea lanes. Russia’s movements could pitch it into a serious territorial dispute with the US for the first time.”

Tension in the Arctic is also being heightened by the revival of Russian Cold War-era manoeuvres. Hardly a week passes without Russian aircraft over-flying the North Pole, simulating strikes on “enemy” bases and shipping.

The crisis erupted last year when a Russian submarine crew planted a flag on the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile stretch of seabed that Moscow says is Russian. Derided at the time as a stunt, the move focused attention on the race for the Arctic’s hidden treasures.

No country owns the Arctic Ocean or the North Pole, but under the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention, each country with a coast has exploitation rights in a limited “exclusive economic zone”. On ratification of the convention – and America has yet to ratify it – each country has 10 years to make claims extending its zone.

Russia rivals Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer and is estimated to have the largest natural gas supplies. Energy earnings are funding a $189 billion (£97 billion) overhaul of its armed forces.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/1976314/Russia-accused-of-annexing-the-Arctic-for-oil-reserves-by-Canada.html

On Russia, Oil, Energy and Foreign Policy & The Artic Circle – Part 1

Posted: July 29, 2008
9:52 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily 

Even if Congress follows President Bush’s lead in opening off-shore oil exploration, there exist over 125,000 square miles of sea bottom that won’t be explored, because the State Department – amid controversy and against the will of Alaskans – has surrendered the land to Russia.

Eight islands and their surrounding sea floors were ceded to the former Soviet Union as part of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Maritime Boundary Treaty in 1991, a treaty signed by the U.S. Senate and President George Bush but never ratified by the Soviets. Nonetheless, an executive agreement enforcing the terms of the treaty until ratification has been in place through three presidencies, meaning the State Department officially recognizes the islands as Russian territory.

Alaskan legislators, who were given no input or authority on the island giveaway, have long protested the treaty, declaring it null and void without Russian ratification.

And since last week’s U.S. Geological Survey estimating that 90 billion barrels of oil lie undiscovered and technically recoverable above the Arctic Circle, those 125,000 square miles of seabed have taken on newly appreciated value. Five of the islands lie north of the Artic Circle, and the other three sit at the western end of Alaska’s Aleutian island chain.

Carl Olson, a retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander and chairman of State Department Watch, a nonpartisan foreign policy watchdog group, explained to WND the significance of the State Department’s stance: “The area off the coast of an island that a nation may use is called the exclusive economic zone. The group in charge of defining that is the State Department. So (the president and Congress) can say the off-shore areas are opened up, but still not recognize these quarter of a million square miles available for American oil exploration.”

Alaska state Rep. John B. Coghill told WND earlier, “The issues involve not only state sovereignty over vital territories but also significant national defense concerns and substantial economic losses over fisheries and petroleum.”

The Alaskan legislature and a sympathetic California legislature have both passed resolutions asking Congress to allow Alaska at the bargaining table with Russia to resolve the islands’ ownership. After almost 20 years of official protests, the U.S. State Department has yet to acknowledge Alaska’s arguments.

“It’s totally anti-public, anti-Congress, anti-state actions – but unfortunately the State Department thinks it has the power to adopt this boundary line with the Russians without anybody’s consent outside themselves, ” Olson told WND. “The State Department is basically chopping off a piece of Alaska and giving it to a foreign government without Alaska having any say in it.”

The lands in dispute include the islands of Herald, Bennett, Henrietta, Jeanette, Copper Island, Sea Lion Rock, Sea Otter Rock, and Wrangel, which is the largest of the eight, roughly the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, including the Aleutian Islands, which presumably would include Copper Island, Sea Otter Rock and Sea Lion Rock. In 1881, U.S. Captain Calvin L. Hooper landed on Wrangel Island and claimed it for the U.S. Also in 1881, the U.S. Navy claimed the islands of Bennett, Jeannette, and Henrietta. The British held Herald Island, but they gave up that claim, permitting the U.S. to take it.

American citizens had occupied Wrangel Island from approximately 1881 to 1924, when Russian soldiers landed and forcibly removed the American occupants from its shores. The Russians then reportedly used the island as a concentration camp.

Many Alaskan legislators believe the islands were part of their state, even after the Wrangel invasion, though the U.S. State Department officially disagrees. Without a ratified treaty designating them as Russian, those same legislators and Carl Olson believe the islands still are American territory and can be reverted to the U.S. easily.

The only thing binding the islands to Russia is “in the form of an executive agreement,” Olson told WND, “which means it can be changed with the stroke of a pen by the president, because it has no force of law.”

“We have been steadily maintaining the pressure,” said Olson. “It’s just a matter of finding sympathetic people in Washington and the other states to go for it. There’s plenty of organizations who have endorsed our efforts, so we keep up the drumbeat.”

Coghill has also sought the support of other states, claiming that the federal State Department has overstepped its authority in giving away a state’s land. “If they can do this to Alaska,” he warns, “they can do this to any state.”

U.S. State Department officials did not return WND telephone calls to discuss the matter, but a State Department webpage devoted to the island controversy denies that islands were ever claimed by the United States and explains that though the treaty between the U.S. and Russian Federation was never fully ratified, “In a separate exchange of diplomatic notes, the two countries agreed to apply the agreement provisionally.”

The webpage concludes, “The U.S. has no intention of reopening discussion of the 1990 Maritime Boundary Treaty.”

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/?pageId=70902

Sex, Drugs & Oil – Palin’s Fight To Reform Big Oil in Alaska

| Associated Press Writer

The alleged transgressions involve 13 former and current Interior Department employees in Denver and Washington. Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with — and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from — oil company employees, according to three reports released Wednesday by the Interior Department’s inspector general.

The investigations reveal a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” by a small group of individuals “wholly lacking in acceptance of or adherence to government ethical standards,” wrote Inspector General Earl E. Devaney, whose office spent more than two years and $5.3 million on the investigation.

Sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length,” Devaney said.

The reports describe a fraternity house atmosphere inside the Denver Minerals Management Service office responsible for marketing oil and natural gas that energy companies barter to the government in lieu of cash royalty payments for drilling on federal lands. The government received $4.3 billion in such royalty-in-kind payments last year. The oil and gas is then resold to energy companies or put in the nation’s emergency stockpile.

“During the course of our investigation, we learned that some RIK employees frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives,” the report said. Two government employees who had to spend the night after a daytime industry function because they were too intoxicated to drive home were commonly referred to by energy traders as the “MMS Chicks.”

Between 2002 and 2006, nearly a third of the 55-person staff in the Denver office received gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies, including Chevron Corp., Shell, Hess Corp. and Denver-based Gary-Williams Energy Corp., the investigators found. Two oil marketers received gifts and gratuities on at least 135 occasions. One admitted having a one-night-stand with a Shell employee. That same individual allegedly passed out business cards for her sex toy business at work, bragging that her income from that business exceeded her salary at the Interior Department.

Devaney said the investigations took so long because Chevron refused to cooperate. An Interior Department official said Chevron would not allow investigators to interview its employees.

Don Campbell, a Chevron spokesman, said Wednesday that the company “produced all of the documents that the government requested months ago.” A Shell spokeswoman said it would be premature for the company to comment on the report until it had time to review it.

The reports also said former head of the Denver royalty-in-kind office, Gregory W. Smith, used cocaine and had sex with subordinates. The report said Smith also steered government contracts to a consulting business that paid him $30,000 for his work from April 2002 through June 2003. Smith retired from the office in May 2007.

Smith’s attorney, Steve Peters, called the claims “sheer fantasy.”

Greg Smith was a loyal, dedicated employee of the federal government for more than 28 years,” Peters said Wednesday. “His efforts in running the royalty-in-kind program resulted in one of the most profitable government programs in American history.”

MMS Director Randall Luthi, in an interview, said the agency was taking the report “extremely seriously” and would review the allegations and weigh taking appropriate action in coming months. The inspector general is recommending that current employees implicated be fired and be barred for life from working within the royalty program.

House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said “this whole IG report reads like a script from a television miniseries and one that cannot air during family viewing time. It is no wonder that the office was doing such a lousy job of overseeing the RIK program; clearly the employees had ‘other’ priorities in that office.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., urged Democrats to reopen a House investigation of the Minerals Management Service that was initiated in 2006 by House Republicans. “Looking into and fixing these problems would have meant highlighting the enormous revenues that domestic oil and natural gas production contributes to our treasury. This just didn’t fit into their anti-drilling campaign,” he said.

While most government royalties for drilling on federal lands are paid in cash, the government in recent years has been receiving a greater share of its oil and gas royalties in the actual product. More of that oil is also being sold on the open market, versus being deposited in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the nation’s emergency oil stockpile. Congress earlier this year passed a law halting deposits of oil to the reserve to help alleviate high gasoline prices.

The investigation was prompted by a 2006 phone call from an employee in the Denver office who reported ethical lapses.

___

Associated Press writers H. Josef Hebert in Washington and Ivan Moreno in Denver contributed to this report.

The Job of Being Alaska’s Governor – How does it stack up?

REVIEW & OUTLOOK
   

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

SEPTEMBER 10, 2008 , PA14

One rap on Sarah Palin’s qualifications to be Vice President is that she governs one of our least populated states, with a budget of “only” $12 billion and 16,000 full-time state employees. On the other hand, it turns out that the Governor’s office in Alaska is one of the country’s most powerful.

[Sarah Palin]

For more than two decades Thad Beyle, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, has maintained an index of “institutional powers” in state offices. He rates governorships on potential length of service, budgetary and appointment authority, veto power and other factors. Mr. Beyle’s findings for 2008 rate Alaska at 4.1 on a scale of 5. The national average is 3.5.

Only four other states — Maryland, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia — concentrate as much power in the Governor’s office as Alaska does, and only one state (Massachusetts) concentrates more. California may be the nation’s most populous state, but its Governor rates as below-average (3.2) in executive authority. This may account in part for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poor legislative track record. The lowest rating goes to Vermont (2.5), where the Governor (remember Howard Dean) is a figurehead compared to Mrs. Palin.

In Alaska, the Governor has line-item veto power over the budget and can only be overridden by a three-quarters majority of the Legislature. In 1992, the year Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was elected President, his state budget was $2 billion and among the smallest in the country. Compared to that, Sarah Palin is an executive giant.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122100776282517559.html?mod=opinion_main_review_and_outlooks

Lies & Damn Lies -The Bridge to Nowhere – Who voted for it? Who voted against it?

 

OBAMA AND BIDEN VOTE FOR BRIDGE TO NOWHERE

By John Powers, Chicago Daily Observer  Monday, September 8, 2008 Last Update: 4:43 p.m.
Now that Alaska is front and center in the news again, it is a good time to catch up on a favorite story, The Bridge to Nowhere, using the Washington Post US Congress Votes Database.

Though Gov. Palin originally supported the earmark spending on the Ketchikan bridge (“to nowhere), she eventually killed the project, chosing to spend Federal money on other infrasturcture programs.

However, Sen. Biden and Sen. Obama voted for funding the Bridge, even when given a second chance by Sen. Tom Coburn, who proposed shifting earmark funds to Katrina relief.

http://cdobs.com/archive/our-columns/obama-and-biden-voted-for-bridge-to-nowhere,1628/

WHAT DID ABC NEWS SAY AT THE TIME – September 2007:

The End of the Bridge to Nowhere

September 21, 2007 1:43 PM

<!–

Lindsey Ellerson

–>ABC News’ John Cochran reports: The Bridge to Nowhere is gone.  Not the victim of aging frames, bolts and joints.  No, this bridge has collapsed, even before it was built, after an onslaught of angry editorials, furious anti-pork citizens groups, and caustic jokes on late night TV.

First, that name.   It was not accurate.   If built, the bridge would have gone somewhere.   It would have replaced the ferry that takes residents of Ketchikan, Alaska (population 8,000) to the local airport on Gravina Island.  In 2005, Congress approved $223 million for construction.

In Washington, groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense and Citizens Against Government Waste, rallied their troops to try to block the money.   They said the island was home to far more deer than people (50). 

The bridge’s main sponsor in the Senate, Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, was outraged by any attempt to prevent his state from getting federal funds.  In 2004, with the help of Stevens, his state got special projects worth $645 million.  That was $984 for every Alaskan.   By contrast, Congress handed out less than $3 to every Texan.  And a Texan was, and still is, the President. 

But the barrage of publicity was too much for his fellow Republicans.  Senator John McCain, R.-Ariz., cited the Bridge to Nowhere as a perfect example of wasteful spending.  Senator Tom Coburn R-Okla., a longtime foe of pork spending, tried to shift the money to rebuild an interstate highway damaged by Hurricane Katrina. 

Senator Stevens grew even more outraged: “I don’t kid people.  If the Senate decides to discriminate against our state…I will resign.”  He did not resign.

An uneasy compromise was reached.  Congress took away the money for the Gravina Island bridge and another Alaskan bridge which was almost as controversial.  Instead, Congress gave the money to the state with the understanding that it was not required to use the funds specifically for bridges.

Friday, the state of Alaska officially sank the Bridge to Nowhere.  Governor Sarah Palin, also a Republican, said “Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport.”  “But,” she said, the bridge “is not the answer.”  Palin has told state transportation officials to look for the most “fiscally responsible” alternative.

A spokesman for Senator Stevens was not immediately available for comment.

http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2007/09/the-end-of-the-.html

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