Lines on a map

The Alaskans are at it again. No, we are not talking about a natural gas pipeline, although it might get dragged into it.

The Alaskans are at it again.

No, we are not talking about a natural gas pipeline, although it might get dragged into it.

Instead it is the offshore border in the Beaufort Sea between Alaska and the Yukon.

The Alaskans are laying claim to a bit that is Canada’s.

Not only are they laying claim to it, they’re offering to sell the oil and gas resources that are claimed by Canada.

First, a quick geography primer.

The Alaska/Yukon border is defined by the 141-degree longitude line.

It extends from the melting glacier ice fields of Kluane Park due north all the way to the Beaufort Sea.

This is the land border.

Most Yukoners are familiar with the southern portion of it because they cross it whenever they drive the Top of the World Highway or go beyond Canada’s most westerly community, Beaver Creek.

Offshore is where the differences between the United States and Canada occur.

Canada claims the border essentially extends straight north along 141-degree longitude to the 322-kilometre offshore limit.

The United States claims it veers immediately northeast once it hits tidewater, towards the Canadian Arctic archipelago islands.

Thus there is a small wedge of disputed offshore territory between the Yukon and Alaska.

Now this is a minor irritant, but it could become a big one.

This is because of what lies underneath the seabed within this wedge.

It is potentially very rich in fossil fuels such as oil and gas.

Thanks to climate change, which is caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, the ice is melting in the Arctic.

This could permit a potential Northwest Passage shipping route, part of which would include the disputed wedge.

Ironically, the disappearing sea ice will also permit easier extraction of even more fossil fuels.

For now, fossil-fuel activity is underway in two main areas of the Beaufort Sea.

These are Prudhoe Bay in Alaska and offshore from the Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories.

Exploratory offshore wells have been drilled elsewhere on both sides of the border and fossil-fuel deposits have been confirmed.

In fact, both countries are in the process of dealing with new oil and gas rights in the Beaufort Sea.

The Alaskans are inviting comments on a huge stretch of offshore sea-bed, all the way from Point Barrow to the disputed wedge off Canada’s Ivvavik National Park.

For more information on this, termed the Beaufort Sea Areawide 2008 Call for New Information, visit   http://www.dog.dnr.state.ak.us/oil/  or www.dog.dnr.state.ak.us/oil/. Deadline for comments is April 29.

Not to be outdone, the Canadian federal government is inviting bids for a variety of offshore regions due north of the Mackenzie Delta.

More information on the areas in question is available at http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/oil/act/Cal/index_e.html and www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/oil/act/Cal/index_e.html. Deadline for bids is June 2.

Thankfully, the Canadian offshore regions are well away from the border zone otherwise something might actually have to be done to resolve this issue.

In the grand scheme of things a small territorial dispute between two friendly countries might not seem that important.

But border wars have been started over less, and given the possibility of fossil fuel riches in the zone, this issue deserves attention.

Canada, and the Yukon, do have a couple of good cards in their hands when it comes to negotiating this issue.

Alaska is the one that wants to lay a mega-northern pipeline across the Yukon to ship fossil fuels south.

The United States is the one that keeps pushing for an international shipping right-of-way in the Northwest Passage.

And in addition to all that, both their state and federal government are, through oil and gas rights issuance, laying claim to a small bit of the Beaufort Sea that Canada also claims.

Like it or not, these issues could be linked.

After all, who issues pipeline permits within Canada, and who has the icebreakers to clear paths through a potential Northwest Passage?

The problem is, it does not appear that Canada is standing up to the United States on the issue of the Beaufort Sea border.

Last year our current prime minister said: “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty in the Arctic; either we use it or we lose it.”

Now this author is not suggestion that Canada should be issuing even more offshore oil and gas leases to establish sovereignty.

Offshore oil and gas development is one of the most environmentally damaging aspects of fossil-fuel development.

For either country to be promoting it, especially in the ecologically sensitive Beaufort Sea, is reprehensible.

But should Canada choose to not even raise the issue about where the border lies, irrespective of the possible economic or environmental concerns, this country will not have to concern itself with Arctic sovereignty and decisions about its use.

The Alaskans will have made the choice for us.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse-based part-time environmentalist.

Just Posted

Whitehorse musicians offer film scores online

‘People know when they come to the site that there is a certain aesthetic and level of quality’

Yukon government won’t release municipal carbon tax rebate details until May

Details of potential rebates for municipalities to be announced in May

They’ve got a guy: Yukon government signs first pot supplier deal

A B.C.-based company will provide up to 350 kg of cannabis flower and oil

Yukon Parks tightens rules to crack down on campsite squatters

Campers were previously allowed to leave occupied campsites unattended for up to 72 hours

Black Press Media acquires two new Alaska newspapers

New Media Investment Group to acquire the Akron (OH) Beacon Journal while Black Press Media takes on daily newspapers in Juneau and Kenai Alaska

Gold Rush star Tony Beets appeals pond fire fines

Beets and his company, Tamarack Inc., were fined $31k for violating portions of the Waters Act

Defence lawyer asks Crown appeal of Kolasch acquittal be dismissed

In factum, Harry Kolasch’s lawyer says it’s clear that police officer used excessive force

Yukon Liberals raise $20,000 at Vancouver hockey game

Silver says no public money spent on trip, party refuses to say who bought tickets

Inspector, CYFN lawyer talk about WCC inspection at justice conference

David Loukidelis and Jennie Cunningham spoke about the Whitehorse Correctional Centre

An early view on how the carbon tax will affect the Yukon economy

If you only remember two numbers from the recently released federal-territorial study… Continue reading

‘New way of thinking’ about infrastructure funding asks First Nations and municipalities to chip in

Some of YG’s 25 per cent share of infrastructure cash may come from municipalities or First Nations

Nadia Moser named to senior national team

Whitehorse’s Nadia Moser was officially named to the senior national team by… Continue reading

Most Read