Has Sen. Murkowski LOST her mind?


As Planet Gore readers likely know, Congress currently prohibits the federal government to sell leases for energy production along the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). As the Congressional Research Service Office has put it, “OCS moratoria, which prohibit leasing on most federal offshore lands, have been an important issue in the debate over energy security and the potential availability of additional domestic oil and gas resources. Congress has enacted the moratoria for each of fiscal years 1982-2006 [NB: now 2008] in the annual Interior Appropriations bill.”


This prohibition expires at the end of this (and every other) fiscal year. It would have to be specifically included in the FY 2009 Interior appropriations bill to be renewed. That vehicle, however, will not pass this year for the very simple reason that the Democrats will not allow a vote on drilling, and therefore have precluded votes on the spending bill. Seriously.


Although the prohibition expires on September 30, when Congress passes a continuing resolution to simply extend present law it, too, will be extended barring a surprise agreement by the Democrats to allow a specific vote on drilling, avoidance of which has been their monomaniacal objective for weeks.


This is all to illustrate the lengths to which the anti-energy forces will go to block production of domestic resources which, phrased another way, means to block us from lowering our dependence on foreign sources of energy.


Now, note that these are generally the same people who want us to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS; a.k.a. the Law of the Sea Treaty — LOST, appropriately enough). This treaty establishes specific jurisdictional limits on the ocean area that countries may claim, including a 12-mile territorial sea limit and a 200-mile exclusive economic zone limit. That’s pretty well customary international law, universally recognized, so through it we gain next to nothing – but at great downside risk.


LOST also creates an International Seabed Authority to administer mining rights and seabed resources in the areas outside exclusive economic zones. It demands that parties adopt rules to avoid pollution of the oceans, as viewed through the lens of the “precautionary principle” (CO2 from burning hydrocarbons causing “ocean acidification,” anyone?), specifically from land-borne sources. In short, it is Kyoto, except this time with a tribunal, one that has already indicated that it will run amok when given the chance. This tribunal, like the seabed authority, will be stocked with people who do not wish us well.


With all of this in mind, you might be fascinated to know that, as reported Thursday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is invoking the high cost of oil in making a late-hour push for LOST ratification. I noted yesterday that she is the early favorite to be the Republican co-sponsor of Kyoto-style Lieberman-Warner legislation next Congress.


Per Greenwire, her argument is as follows: “unless the United States accedes to the Law of the Sea . . . it will not be able to apply to extend its outer continental shelf beyond its 200-mile exclusive economic zone, potentially expanding its access to the energy resources. Nor will it be able to counter continental shelf claims by other Arctic nations, no small concern at a time when Russia, Canada and Norway are racing to snap up portions of the Arctic seafloor.”


I say with all due measure and perspective: this might be either the most misguided or the most cynical argument I have ever encountered.


First, disregarding for the moment LOST’s inescapable flaws and perils, will someone please tell Sen. Murkowski, et al. – policy mavens purportedly engaged at the moment in a fierce battle over opening the Outer Continental Shelf for leasing – that federal lands subject to the description of our OCS are off limits. With no end in sight.


But, Chris, you might say, this is actually very clever, see, because if we ratify the treaty and resolve such potential issues, declaring certain areas of the seabed as our own – notwithstanding the treaty’s obsession with declaring the seas and their resources a “common heritage of mankind” – why, then the pressure to allow drilling will simply be irresistible.


Well, experience reveals that to be remarkably naïve: there are estimated to be scores of billions of barrels of recoverable oil (and vast gas resources) already lying in areas that are indisputably ours, right now. The reason we aren’t drilling isn’t because current OCS reserves are insufficient or because we need LOST to confirm those areas as being ours, but because, in Al Gore’s words, “the areas that are protected now are protected for a reason.”


That’s true: and the reason is . . . a secular religion that hates population and recognizes the necessity of energy to support all of those people they don’t like. There are other political reasons. But no substantive reasons. That is, unless I’ve missed a bunch of oil spills – from offshore rigs, not ships transporting oil here from other countries – in the past few, oh, decades.


Adding billions more suspected barrels to the potential haul would not change this religion, or “reason,” but would only increase the fevered pitch with which we are told of the horrors of ocean exploration and production. Oh, and place much of it under the control of a bunch of people who don’t like us. Isn’t avoiding dependence on such people a principal if rather inconsistent talking point of the same folks who want to avoid producing our own hydrocarbons?


But given that (in the words of the CRS) “[t]he outer continental shelf is defined as submerged lands, subsoil, and seabed between the seaward extent of states’ jurisdiction and the seaward extent of federal jurisdiction,” how would extending our OCS increase domestic oil and gas production? It would simply extend a moratorium and/or UN tribunal authority to land and resources that presently are free of either.


How about repealing (or at least failing to renew) the prohibition on OCS leasing before arguing that we really should ensure that the OCS covers a larger area because maybe someday the noisy anti-energy mob – here, in the UN, ISA, and the LOST tribunal – will let us get at it. At least if Russia, Canada, or Norway claimed the potentially disputed areas, we know full well they’d bring the buried resources to market. Which, I have no doubt, is precisely why so many want the U.S. to claim ownership.


So with this explanation I repeat, with all due measure and perspective: this might be either the most misguided or most cynical argument I have ever encountered.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review