Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
May 2009

Vol. 14, No. 22 Week of May 31, 2009

New report addresses changing Arctic

Commonwealth North report recommends U.S. actions to reflect increasing international interest and opportunity in the Arctic region

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

Commonwealth North, a private organization which provides information about Alaska public policy issues, has published a report called “Why the Arctic Matters,” in which experts on the Arctic have put forward a series of recommended actions for the United States, in response to challenges that the nation faces in its far north.

“America doesn’t understand we’re an Arctic nation,” said Mead Treadwell, vice president of Commonwealth North, on May 20 when telling a Commonwealth North forum in Anchorage about publication of the report. “We sent a check to Russia in 1867, bought a piece of real estate. … And yet today the questions of what is the value of the Arctic and so forth are continuing.”

And changes that are happening in the Arctic are bringing pressing issues that require responsible actions.

“As the Arctic becomes accessible we must both respond to the Arctic’s opportunities and sustain those things in the Arctic we’ve always held dear as a people,” Treadwell said.

The new report has focused both on the rich Arctic assets and on the need for a U.S. and Alaska Arctic agenda, he said. Those assets include food resources; support for global commerce and security; vast lands and oceans that are critical to the Earth’s climate; oil, gas, coal and minerals; renewable energy sources; and indigenous cultures.

Oil and gas are critical to the economy of Alaska, and to Arctic nations such as Canada and Russia. At the same time, the whole world is mindful of important Arctic wildlife such as the polar bear. Alaska has become a central point for international air transportation and might in the future take on a similar role for Arctic shipping, Treadwell said.

The main conclusion from the study that led to the report was that Alaska’s assets, managed well, will sustain the state, he said.


Report recommendations include continued Arctic scientific research; sustainable development of Arctic regions, with an improved standard of living for Arctic residents; helping Arctic residents adapt to climate change; considering the contribution of Alaska and the Arctic in mitigating climate change; investing in new infrastructure, including new icebreakers, to accommodate increased human activity in the Arctic; and supporting stable legal institutions in the Arctic, especially the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty.

And the indigenous peoples of the Arctic need to be included in government decision-making processes, the report says.

Murkowski calls for more polar icebreakers

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee May 5 that the United States needs more icebreakers to replace and augment the country’s meager inventory of two elderly polar class vessels, an inventory that Murkowski characterized as a “serious shortage of pieces” in a global chess game that is playing out in the Arctic.

“At present the Russians have 18 icebreakers, and are planning on building three more. Finland has seven and Canada six,” Murkowski said. “The United States has two working icebreakers and a third in caretaker status. Even China, which doesn’t have any Arctic waters, has one. I would encourage the committee to strongly support increasing the U.S. icebreaker fleet and replacing the two aging polar class vessels.”

Roundtable on Arctic

The committee was conducting a roundtable discussion on the global implications of a warming Arctic, a climatic trend that is reducing the Arctic sea-ice extent and thus triggering an increase in shipping, oil and gas activity, tourism and research in the Arctic Ocean.

Murkowski also encouraged the committee to support ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty.

“While there are many issues of priority in the Arctic, the one in which I believe the committee should prioritize first is ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Murkowski said. “I suggest that the Committee expeditiously hold a hearing to frame the issue, inform new committee members and allow them to see the broad support for ratification.”

Murkowski also urged attention to President Bush’s revamped Arctic Region Policy, issued at the end of Bush’s presidency and formally acknowledging that the United States is an Arctic nation.

—Alan Bailey

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