We Sell Sea Shelves

Would the government sell off rights to the continental shelf?

| November 13, 2003

Is the government so desperate for money that it would sell off rights to the continental shelf and privatize the ocean commons? Given the benefits such a sale would provide to industry and government coffers, such privatization is only too real a possibility, reports Jeremy Brown of Tompaine.com. 'Privatizing the ocean commons could well become one of the great giveaways of the early 21st century,' he writes.

Faced with a similar deficit crisis back in the 1990s, the government sold off unused broadcast frequencies to raise money. Today, the gears appear to be in motion for selling off U.S. territorial waters, called the Exclusive Economic Zone. According to Brown, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy was established in 2000 by Congress to deal with seabed property rights issues. More than half of the commission's presidential-appointed members have direct ties to the oil, mining, development, and aquaculture industries that stand to benefit from the sale of the EEZ. 'Only two members have any connection to stakeholders who will likely be hurt if the continental shelf is opened to new industrial development: shipping and fishing,' he notes.

And yet, the sale of the EEZ could provide an economic bonanza for industry. Potential commercial benefits for private buyers range from familiar oil and gas development to expanded aquaculture opportunities to the mining of minerals like deep-sea manganese nodules and methane hydrates.

Because the workings of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy have been largely unreported by the media, the public debate about the development of the continental shelf has yet to begin. Considering the financial benefits to industry and government, it seems likely the debate will be a fierce one.
-- Erica Wetter



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