Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Icebreakers for Oil


December 1, 2017

According to our Alaska bureau chief, Margaret Bauman, an arctic and ice navigation readiness project at the AVTEC Alaska Maritime Training Center in Seward, Alaska, has received a $95,000 financial boost from the refining, marketing and logistics company Andeavor, formerly known as Tesoro.

The donation was announced during a recent training event, sponsored by Andeavor and hosted at Seward, to provide more than 30 ship masters and pilots an opportunity to hone their skills in navigating ice covered waters in Cook Inlet.

The licensed deck officers participated in 10 training scenarios navigating through ice in Cook Inlet. The event was programmed into AVTEC’s three interactive full mission bridge ship simulators.

Andeavor’s gift will be directed at enhancing the bridge simulators through an upgrade of hardware and software, state labor officials said.

Kudos to Andeavor for reaching out to the community and offering assistance. This kind of goodwill won’t be reported in the mainstream media, but the community will benefit, as will the oil company, from the goodwill it has produced.

Alaska runs on oil, and there was good news for the state at press time as legislation proposed by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) had passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources committee on a 13 to 10 vote. The legislation calls for the opening for exploratory drilling in the 19-million acre arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The bill calls for two lease sales over the next decade in at least 400,000 acres each in the refuge’s coastal plain.

The untapped offshore areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas could account for up to 79 percent of Alaska’s offshore gas and 89 percent of the state’s offshore oil, and the Alaska pipeline is only running at 25 percent of capacity.

Washington senator Maria Cantwell (D) is currently opposed to this development, which would encompass 4.2 percent of the Refuge’s 19 million acres of barren and desolate tundra. Most Alaskans support the exploration, as do many Washingtonians, who also stand to benefit both from the oil exploration and from the employment that it would bring.

This gives us an idea. In his excellent article beginning on page 30 of this issue, Craig Allen notes the country’s desperate need for heavy and medium-duty icebreakers. Perhaps the oil companies could be persuaded to pay a sizeable fee for the rights to exploration and extraction north of the arctic Circle, where the new vessels are needed. This “cover charge” could fund the country’s new fleet of modern heavy and medium icebreakers.

ExxonMobil alone spent an average of more than $1 billion per year in research and development over the past eight years. In July of this year, Chevron reported a second-quarter income of $1.45 billion and ConocoPhillips plans to invest $5.5 billion each year in capital projects for the rest of the decade if oil prices remain above $50 per barrel.

With her re-election campaign in full swing, Senator Cantwell has been outspoken on a number of issues, including the need for more icebreakers. In 2015, the Senator sent the following in a letter to then President Obama:

“We do not have the operational ice breaker capacity to support our nation’s security, trade, transportation, search-and-rescue, environmental response, or research mission requirements in the Polar regions. As you know, the Coast Guard is the sole provider of polar icebreaking assets for the federal government, including for the Department of Defense. As the world pivots to the arctic, the United States has only two operational polar icebreakers. Russia has 40 operational icebreakers while China has invested $300 million for a second operational heavy icebreaker, $400 million in energy projects in arctic Canada, and intends to invest $2.3 billion in an arctic Greenland mining project.”

Craig Allen notes that new icebreakers would, by necessity, be homeported in Seattle. Senator Cantwell should embrace this idea and help promote the symbiosis of energy independence and icebreaker construction. A new fleet of cutting-edge icebreakers, paid for by the end user – Big Oil – without the need for budgetary gimmicks or painful belt tightening, is a tailor-made campaign message.

Chris can be reached at


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