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Guardian: EU countries seek to annex lucrative tract of Atlantic seabed

· UK, Ireland, France and Spain in mining rights bid
· Environmentalists accuse coalition of 'land grab'

A vast tract of the Atlantic seabed more than 200 miles off shore is being claimed by a coalition of four European countries eager to expand their oil and gas prospecting rights.

The joint submission to the United Nations by France, Ireland, Spain and the UK is based on a novel legal approach that is transforming the international politics of underwater prospecting. Environmentalists have condemned the procedure as legitimising "land grabs".

The diamond-shaped zone straddles the outer edge of the continental shelf under the Celtic sea and the Bay of Biscay. It covers 31,000 square miles, an area the size of Ireland, at a point where the seabed plunges down to what is known as the Porcupine Abyssal Plain.

The waters there are up to 5,000 metres (16,500 feet) deep, almost double the depth at which commercial extraction of gas is viable at present. Deposits of frozen methane, which may provide another energy source, are expected to be found.

by Fran on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 12:44:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...would rather be the last of my concerns for environmentalists. Japan has been experimenting with tapping into the methane reservoir, and they are getting successful. Other nations have been sitting on the fence (I generalise, but not far from the truth), letting Japan take the struggling lead.

Lining up the methane clathrates reservoir as next in line after oil sounds foolish to me. This is just my gut-reaction, I haven't read the rest yet. But right now, it sounds as "Oh, we exhausted all the environmentally damaging hydrocarbons of gas. Let's move on to the other one." There's an animal that behaves like that and it's in afew's sig-line. And this is done by national governments?? I'm slim on time today, and a whole line of ET assignments is on the diary, but this sounds worthy of investigating.

by Nomad on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:38:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nomad, this is the geological meat of their claim:
The combined claim was submitted two weeks ago to the New York-based UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). The four countries are seeking recognition of their collaborative prospecting rights before deciding how to subdivide the area.

The application is based on fresh geological and geophysical data obtained last year by a team of scientists from the four EU states working on the Spanish research vessel Hesperides. The ship traversed the ocean, tracking submerged slopes and plotted what is described as a new "continental shelf outer limit".

The submission, due to be debated at the next CLCS session in August, is the first combined claim to be heard by the UN group. By acting together, the EU countries hope to overcome any international resistance.

What they hope to show is that the outer reaches of the shelf extend beyond what had previously been established. By increasing the shelf's size they will be able to annex the new resources.



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:48:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Worth flagging for the outcome at the least.

But I continue to have the sensation something reeks. A shelf at 5000 meter below sea level? That can't be right. (Gut feeling again.) And they file their claim a year after their data came in? That's extremely fast. It sounds to me like a pre-determined plan with their geophysical data to beef up the claim. I'm not saying it is, I get that inkling.

by Nomad on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 05:30:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think this a NASA-type confusion of units. I think that should be 5,000 feet (10 feet = 3 metres almost eactly). So the depth is 1500 metres.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 06:22:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good-old Grauniad hasn't metricated?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 06:30:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unlikely to be a double confusion of units...
The waters there are up to 5,000 metres (16,500 feet) deep, almost double the depth at which commercial extraction of gas is viable at present.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 06:31:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I bet that's exactly what happened.

Atlantic ocean, average depth 3,900 metres, 12,900 feet.
from Encarta http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/search.aspx?q=Atlantic+Ocean+depth

So, when they're talking about annexing part of the continental shelf where it begins to plunge to abyssal depths, it must be shallower. So, I'm pretty confident it's Helen 1 Grauniad -2

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 06:52:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We're talking about the wedge-shaped deep purple region between Ireland and Spain

(stolen from here)
The purple colour is consistent with 5,000-m depths. The region is labelled "abyssal plane" in the submission (linked in a parallel comment).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 07:01:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to the full article, they are definitely talking about the continental shelf, not the abyssal plain beyond. I guess that refers to the large white bit south of Ireland.

A continental shelf is the edge of a land mass that extends into the sea, forming the seabed adjacent to the coast before it slopes away into deep ocean. Shelves are formed when tides erode land and lay down sediment, and they are rich in natural resources. Under the Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf (1958), each country has the right to mine its coastline; others wanting to mine the seabed must get permission from the state whose coast borders that area of continental shelf. The convention set the shelf limit at 200 nautical miles from the coast. Countries with shelves that extend beyond this must agree on the limit with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. If the commission approves their bid, Ireland, France, Spain and the UK will win rights to mine the oil and gas in the disputed area, and prevent other countries from doing so.

Given that the methane deposits require rotting vegetation, which is gonna be hard to find at such depths, I think they're trying to extend their national boundaries to the very edges of the shelf.

Judging by your map, Irealnd and France have a good shout, whilst Spain and the UK are on dodgy ground.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 08:00:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Forget about the Grauniad article as they don't know what they're talking about, and read the submission.

The submission is about extending the outer limit of the continental shelf, by redefining it [as DoDo points out, by finding some sediments from old avalanches]. "It extends from the southern limit of the Partial Submission of Ireland to a point on the Spanish 200M continental shelf limit". If you look at the first chart in the submission, the continental shelf (orange, white in "my" map) is already entirely contained within the 200M limit of France and Ireland. The new "Continental Shelf Outer Limit" includes something called the "Union Basin".

The second chart in the submission shows some shallow and thin tendrils of sediments extending from the shelf into the abyssal plain, which are then used to define a new limit to the continental shelf using "Hedberg's formula" of 60 nm (nautical miles, not nanometres) from "the foot of the continental slope" which they define by using a "1% sediment thickness" they determine using seismic data.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 08:12:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I first had to read the submission myself before I understood what you meant. I was rapidly losing the overview in this wrangling of definitions.

But you've nailed it:

  • The definition of the continental shelf is based on the 200M extent from the coast and captures practically all of the geological continental shelf and the abyssal plains within the Bay of Biscay.

  • The land grab move bases itself on applying yet an other definition for the continental shelf (the geological one) and trying to tag sediment slumps and slope deltas as part of the continental slope, thereby adding 60 new nm to the territory, mostly ocean abyssal plain.

This is a joke. It's flimsy beyond belief, actually.

But they do want hydrocarbons. This is mostly about the potential of clathrates, a little about mining the ocean floor, and practically zilch about oil and gas reservoirs.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 10:55:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The way I read it, they were applying pre-existing formulas based on new research, NOT inventing new definitions.

The only really noteworthy thing in this news for me is that four countries managed to hand in a joint request, rather than battling it out over who gets what part of this legalese-shelf.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 01:39:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...I never argue that re-inventing definitions was their tool. I was having difficulties with which definition meant what.

Yet their argument that within their legal definitions the areas highlighted by their research belongs to the shelf is laughable in itself. The fact that it was a multi-country effort may add weight to the impact factor, but it does nothing to the reasoning underneath as I understand it right now.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 02:29:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
their argument that within their legal definitions the areas highlighted by their research belongs to the shelf is laughable in itself.

Why? If a pre-existing internationally agreed (rather than "their") legal definition of shelf was used, then it is not laughable by default.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 02:33:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...their argument isn't within the definition of shelf, but to apply the decisive marker to an area where it is highly doubtable it is applicable. Sediment extensions situated onto the abyssal plain do not constitute a continental slope. The pfd claims they do.

I read on a USGS website that coastal nations can decide their territorial claims of their continental shelf outside the 200 nautical miles based on 1) bathymtery and 2) geology, activating the Gardiner formula in the latter case. Nations can not extent their territory 60 nm beyond the continental slope (Hedberg formula). The range of the continental slope is then based on 1) the depth of the water column and 2) the amount of the sediment present on the floor.

The pdf stacks all of it on the Gardiner formula serving as the black-and-white line whether there's enough sediment present to make it part of the continental slope. If there's more than 1 percent sediment, it must be continental slope, so it belongs under definition so much and so forth (and hence it belongs to us). While wondering if that's a smart definition, applying it in this setting is bizarre. The points they use (FOS 1, 4 and 5, figure 2 in the pdf) are anomalies on the abyssal plain, either remnants of the original shelf during continental breakup or possibly alluvial fan deposits, I can't tell from one pretty picture. They are even disconnected from the slope. Since there's no single word on bathymetry in the submission, I suspect there's no legal ground for that  (which is logical because they work on, I repeat, on the abyssal plain).

Let me therefore say it again: this is a joke. They're applying this Gardiner formula on areas that do not form in any way, in any part the continental slope. In that sense, they do rewrite definitions and remake reality.

If that makes them to the letter of their pretty agreements right, so what. I don't go there, that's not where I'm trained in. But if these guys have to muscle it out with a geologist, they get laughed out of court.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 08:24:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But if these guys have to muscle it out with a geologist, they get laughed out of court.

I'm beginning to lose all respect for the Hesperides oceanographic boat. I suppose the State is no different than Big Pharma, Big Oil or Big Tobacco when it comes to forcing the scientists they sponsor to fix the facts around the policy.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 8th, 2006 at 05:11:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is missing from my rather snippy post of yesterday night is that I think that some of the nations have a legitimate claim to at least part of the proposed area, under the sets of formulas and agreements outlined above. But as it is, it looks like a brazen attempt to suck dry the definition of any moisture.
by Nomad on Thu Jun 8th, 2006 at 04:15:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is talking rubbish at least in the first two sentences you quote. Standardized child speak. I don't bother about what's in the Geneva Convention, that's political semantics I don't know much about, but if the quality of that information is as poor as the shelf description, oh dear.

As for the methane deposits: That's exactly right. Conditions on the coastal shelf do not favour formation of clathrates. The shelf edge is one of the main targeted areas for commercial extraction of methane clathrates.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 05:27:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...was formed by the counter-clockwise rotation plus strike slip movement of Iberia since the Cretaceous, opening up the Bay of Biscay. It's practically fresh ocean floor and hence never EVER part of the continental shelf (geology definition). If they're seriously proposing this, their argument is a geological joke.
by Nomad on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 05:37:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Extending on my other point about legalese, I note that the definitions applied here are for 60 nautical miles beyond the border of the continental shelf.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 09:24:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's practically fresh ocean floor and hence never EVER part of the continental shelf (geology definition)

Fresh ocean floor? Like Helen said: good luck finding fossil hydrocarbons there.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 09:26:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the actual document submitted to the UN Commission. (PDF executive summary is available, with "funky charts").

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 06:54:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently, former landslides on the bottom of the ocean count as continental shelf outer limit.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 07:52:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good luck to 'em if they think there's anything out there.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 08:06:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do they have a separate clause for turbidites then, too? Turbiditic avalanches can extend up to thousands of kilometres into the oceanic abyssal plains. They were discovered when phone cables put on the ocean's floor kept on snapping for reasons no one understood.

The description as given above is geological garbage. Under that definition half of the ocean's floor belongs to the shelf.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 05:03:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Chill down, you wantered into the territory of legal, not geological definitions :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 05:13:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah... I got irked by the definition of the Continental Shelf by the Geneva contention as well. Political semantics, what a pain.
by Nomad on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 05:32:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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