SANTIAGO, Chile – Lawmakers from Chile and Argentina met in Antarctica Thursday, preparing to speak with a common voice against Britain's claim to oil and gas in the southernmost seas.
Chile, Argentina and Britain all claim rights over the same slices of the southernmost continent. This is important for more than the few scientists who live and work in Antarctica, since under a U.N. treaty, coastal countries can control hundreds of miles of continental shelf off their soveriegn territories.
Claims involving Antarctica were tabled for 50 years under a 1959 treaty protecting the icy continent's fragile environment. But the offshore rights have become much more important recently given the global race to secure future energy sources. With the undersea resources in mind, 11 countries have made claims over parts of Antarctica.
The UN's Convention of the Law of the Sea would expand each coastal nation's sovereignty over its continental shelf from 230 miles to 380 miles off shore. But the claims must first be approved by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which faces a May deadline to announce its decisions.
Other nations asserting claims over the seas around Antarctica include Russia, Brazil, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain and Norway.
But the claims of Argentina, Chile and Britain are particularly difficult to sort out, since the British application to extend the boundaries of the British Antarctic Territory it first claimed in 1908 overlaps with similar claims by Argentina and Chile.
The lawmakers arrived Thursday at Chile's research station, and will meet again Friday at Argentina's base, with plans to issue a joint statement.