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Experts say U.S. needs to improve Arctic infrastructure

July 27th, 2011 | Alaska Newspapers Staff Print this article   Email this article  

The United States needs to improve both its infrastructure in the Arctic and the ways its governs the region to take full advantage of the Arctic's resources, numerous experts today told the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.

The meeting was chaired by Sen. Mark Begich, said a press release from his office.

Here's more from the release:

In a hearing Begich convened to focus on the need for comprehensive Arctic policy, government and private sector officials said there is enormous opportunity in the Arctic. But taking advantage of resource development and international shipping opportunities there requires the U.S. to beef up its ice-breaking fleet, build new Arctic ports and ratify the Law of Sea Treaty to give America a seat at the international regulatory table.

"We need to make sure our nation is prepared to fulfill our responsibility and address the implications for national security, energy development, and increased marine shipping and tourism," Begich said in an opening statement at the hearing. "With increased energy development and maritime activity, our nation must ensure the Coast Guard has the capabilities to operate in Arctic waters to guard our borders, protect life, safety and the environment, and ensure safe commerce."

Begich pointed to the critical gap in icebreaker coverage as outlined in the recent "High Latitude" study of Coast Guard needs in the Arctic. That study pointed to the need for three medium and three heavy icebreakers to meet all of the Coast Guard's statutory missions and four additional icebreakers to maintain a continuous presence. The US has only one medium icebreaker currently operational and one heavy icebreaker coming out of caretaker status.

In addition to icebreakers, Begich said the Coast Guard has other needs for its operational requirements in support of increased maritime traffic and energy development in Alaska's outer continental shelf.

"We must address the broader policy implications of an ice-diminishing Arctic and make the needed investments to maintain leadership at the top of our globe," Begich said. "That includes icebreakers which we are sorely lacking and it also the other cutters, aircraft hangars, crew quarters, communications capabilities, deepwater ports, and other infrastructure needed to fulfill our nation's responsibility to protect our national security and allow for energy development, increased marine shipping and tourism in the Arctic."

Witnesses included:

Admiral Robert Papp, Coast Guard Commandant;

State Department Ambassador David Balton;

Navy Rear Admiral David Titley;

Pete Slaiby, Vice President of Shell Alaska;

Dr. Andrew Metzger, Assistant Professor University of Alaska-Fairbanks;

Dr. Scott Borgerson, Institute for Global Maritime Studies.

Sen. Begich called for ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would allow the U.S. to claim the resources in Alaska's extended continental shelf, an area estimated at twice the size of California.

Efforts to improve Arctic infrastructure have become increasingly important following the EPA's July release of draft air quality permits for Shell and ConocoPhillips exploratory drilling operations in Alaska's OCS. Additionally, in June the Obama Administration announced an intent for annual lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Sen. Begich's work to advance Arctic OCS development has included his push for legislation creating an interagency group of federal, state and local officials to coordinate and streamline oil and gas permit processing in federal waters off Alaska's coast, the press release said.

The Senate Energy Committee recently approved legislation including Sen. Begich's proposal. It now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Video from the hearing is available here [].

It includes the testimony of Sen. Begich, Admiral Papp, Pete Slaiby and Dr. Metzger.


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