The contested South China Sea has large deposits of oil and natural gas. Perhaps luckily for the environment, drilling for these resources has been discouraged by political tension among nations in the region. In particular, energy companies worry about China’s ongoing insistence that everything within its infamous nine-dash line—which marks off nearly the entire sea—is its own territory, despite an international tribunal invalidating the sweeping claim last year.
The uncertainty has made it hard for energy companies to justify the hefty investments needed to extract carbon resources from below the sea floor. Recently, though the carbon resources have started to make headlines again, with Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines—and, of course, China—all involved. It’s a reminder that however quiet the issue gets at times, untapped energy riches are a key element to the South China Sea contest.