Promise of the Arctic
The promise of the arctic Conference took place over two sunny days in Seattle last month. Produced by Pacific Maritime Magazine in partnership with the Institute of the North, the conference was well attended by delegates representing most maritime arctic stakeholders, including the towing industry, port and Harbor operations, engineers, shipping lines, naval architects, native corporations, labor, universities and regulators.
Nils Andreassen, Executive Director of the Institute of the North, moderated the opening panel of the conference and told those assembled that increased trade in and through the arctic region would be of great benefit to Seattle, “in spite of its mayor.”
No official representatives of the City of Seattle, King County or the State of Washington attended the event, unless they happened to be in the crowd of unruly protesters chanting on the sidewalk in front of the venue. Nome Mayor Denise Michels made the trip to Seattle for the conference, as did Jake Adams Sr., an Iñupiaq elder from Barrow, Alaska, and three official representatives of the State of Alaska. A variety of current and former Alaskan state legislators, policymakers and regulators, and most of the native corporations were represented.
The keynote address was presented by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, via pre-recorded video. Senator Murkowski mentioned several initiatives being pursued by Alaska including an arctic deepwater port in Nome, the updating of navigational aids and charts and the need for a polar-class icebreaker.
“You cannot be an arctic nation without the ability to move forward in maritime commerce, and that will require our ability to move through the ice.” The senator noted that one icebreaker would cost “close to a billion dollars” and we really need six. “The need is great.”
Senator Murkowski also spoke of the national security aspects of Russia’s development in the arctic and an “obligation to ensure the safety of our borders,” and closed her address by asking that the attendees of the promise of the arctic conference continue to “work together to drive the arctic conversation forward.”
Joshua Kindred, of the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, noted that current estimates show that the arctic holds more than 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural resources. He predicted that there could be as many as 27 billion barrels of oil (bbo) within relatively easy reach in the offshore arctic. For comparison, the Trans-Alaska pipeline, in its 38 years in operation, has moved roughly 17 billion barrels. The arctic National Wildlife Refuge holds another 10 billion barrels.
The extraction and handling of all that oil and gas will require a workforce of 35,000 in Alaska alone, and 55,000 nationwide.
Mead Treadwell, former Lieutenant Governor for the State of Alaska, and current president of Pt Capital noted that Alaska’s current $50 billion GDP could potentially grow to $500 billion by 2030 with responsible infrastructure investment. That’s exciting news for those us of us moving marine cargo to and from Alaska.
For those who would like to see the area and aren’t employed by one of the companies engaged in resource extraction and exploration, Crystal Cruises is offering a 32-day cruise from Anchorage to New York City aboard the 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity along the Northwest Passage. Scheduled to depart on August 16, 2016, passengers will arrive in New York on September 17. Passage can be booked for as little as $21,500 per person, double occupancy, which works out to just more than $670 per day.
Several at the conference discussed the lack of infrastructure along the Northwest Passage as a limiting factor to increased traffic. Indeed the lack of infrastructure throughout the arctic is a stark reminder that much needs to be done before the area is ready for traffic. Several attendees mentioned the logistical issues that will face the Crystal Serenity next summer should she require assistance along the way.
Over the coming few months we’ll feature a more in-depth look at the possibilities offered by increased access to the arctic, as well as the challenges facing local governments, first responders and shipping lines hoping to operate in the area.