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Vol. 24, No.48 Week of December 01, 2019
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Ocean mapping of Arctic

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Presidential memorandum to boost charting of Alaska shoreline and nearshore

Steve Sutherlin

Petroleum News

According to Alaska’s congressional delegation, Alaska will benefit greatly from a Nov. 19 memorandum by President Donald J. Trump, which directs federal agencies to develop a national strategy to map the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and a strategy to map the Alaska coastline.

The Memorandum on Ocean Mapping of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone and the Shoreline and Nearshore of Alaska calls on the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state of Alaska and the Alaska Mapping Executive Committee to develop a proposed strategy to map the shoreline and nearshore of Alaska.

The director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality are directed to coordinate EEZ mapping strategy development. The director and chairman serve as co-chairs of the Ocean Policy Committee, established by executive order June 19, 2018.

“This is an important step for Alaska, especially for the Arctic as we are woefully behind in developing up-to-date maps for the region,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “The Arctic is crucial to our nation’s geopolitical, economic, and environmental well-being.

“Our waters are home to an abundant variety of untapped natural resources that can be used for food, medicine, and energy,” she said.

Murkowski said she has supported funding for NOAA hydrographic surveys for charting in the Arctic, which the memorandum will augment.

“Only a small part of the Arctic has been charted to modern standards, hindering the safety of maritime operations in the region,” she said. “Mapping the waters around our state will provide valuable information on critical minerals and coastal resources while supporting safer shipping in the Arctic.”

“Ensuring our oceans are thoroughly mapped is one of the most important things we can do to protect our economy and the maritime careers that depend on safe, navigable waters,” said Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska.

“As the Arctic’s significance to our global economy continues to grow, a better understanding of our oceans will be crucial.”

“As Alaskans, we depend on our oceans to provide for our families and drive our economy,” said U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. “The provisions outlined in this order will serve to bolster our understanding of our oceans and coastlines, and I commend the president for prioritizing this issue.”

“Completed mapping is especially lacking for Alaska and for the Alaskan Arctic, which lack the comprehensive shoreline and nearshore maps available for much of the rest of the Nation,” the memorandum said. “Maps and charts that present accurate and contemporary coastal elevation data support economic growth, resource management, and the safety and security of coastal residents.”

EEZ only 40% mapped

The U.S. EEZ is among the largest in the world, larger than the combined land area of all 50 states.

The memorandum said the EEZ contains underutilized or undiscovered natural resources, including critical minerals, marine-derived pharmaceuticals, energy and areas of significant ecological and conservation value, but just 40% has been mapped. Significantly less of the area has natural resources and ocean systems that have been characterized, including identification and evaluation, by executive departments and agencies.

Trump’s memorandum was roundly praised by agencies involved with and affected by its provisions.

“The knowledge gained from mapping and exploring the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone will inform policies and guide actions to promote conservation, management, and balanced use of our ocean,” said Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Mary B. Neumayr.

“A bold new era of ocean exploration is made possible through President Trump’s actions,” said Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Today’s action will improve our understanding of the rich ecological and economic resources off our shores and reduce our reliance on foreign sources for important resources,” said Joe Grogan, assistant to the president and director of the Domestic Policy Council.

“Mapping U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and nearshore waters represents a tremendous step towards realizing the full scientific and commercial potential of our oceans and coastlines, and is essential for harnessing American offshore energy resources,” said Department of Energy Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “Not only is more data about our ocean key to responsible offshore energy development, but reliable energy technologies are also needed to power the very instruments that collect this data.”

“In addition to the numerous economic, national security, and environmental benefits that come from a better understanding of our natural resources, exploring the mysteries of the sea can also inspire the next generation of scientists in the fields of physics, biology, geology, chemistry, math and engineering,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy administrator of NOAA.

Continuing policy of ocean knowledge

The memorandum states that it is the policy of the United States “to act boldly to safeguard our future prosperity, health, and national security through ocean mapping, exploration, and characterization.”

“Data and information about the ocean help to advance maritime commerce, domestic seafood production, healthy and sustainable fisheries, coastal resilience, energy production, tourism and recreation, environmental protection, national and homeland security, and other interests,” it said, adding that these activities contribute more than $300 billion per year of economic activity, 3 million jobs and $129 billion in wages.

President Ronald Reagan issued Proclamation 5030: Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States of America, on March 10, 1983, noting that the United States has more than 13,000 miles of coastline and 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean within its territorial jurisdiction.

Trump’s memorandum notes that furthering the understanding of the resources in the U.S. EEZ “is important to conservation, management, and balanced use of our Nation’s oceans.”

Streamlining permitting

Through the memorandum, the president is promoting efficient permitting for ocean exploration, mapping, and research activities. These activities frequently require multiple environmental reviews, consultations, permits and other authorizations under federal laws and regulations that protect resources such as maritime heritage sites and sensitive or protected marine natural resources.

Trump is directing the OPC to recommend actions to increase the efficiency of the permitting process for ocean exploration activities across federal agencies.

To ensure that these activities produce the broadest possible benefits and provide the greatest return on investment of federal resources, it is the policy of the United States to support these activities, when appropriate, in collaboration with non-U.S. government entities, the memorandum said.

The strategies, including those for the mapping of Alaska and Arctic waters, are to be developed within 180 days of the memorandum date, and submitted to the director and the chairman to inform actions of the OPC and relevant agencies.



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