February 1, 2019
On page 28 of this issue, Jim Shaw describes some of the steps Russia is taking to capitalize on the opening of some of its arctic waters. He notes that last year was the arctic region’s second warmest on record, and the list of Russian and other international ships being built or already in operation to capitalize on this warming trend is getting pretty long.
Russia has a fleet of 40 heavy icebreakers and is developing nuclear-powered heavy icebreakers. LNG carriers, cruise vessel, even bulkers are also being built to take advantage of Russia’s proximity to the Northern Sea Route.
Here in the US we still only have the two icebreakers; the 20-year-old medium-duty Healy and the 43-year-old heavy-duty Polar Star. The US icebreaker program, now named the “Polar Security Cutter” program, is once again delayed, after Congress and President Donald Trump failed to reach an agreement on Fiscal Year 2019 funding.
Russia remains one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of petroleum products, and the sector provides up to 40 percent of the country’s revenues. In spite of sanctions, the country intends to boost development of oil fields in its arctic region, and has international partners lined up, including Total Energy, which bought a 10 percent stake in a proposed $25.5 billion arctic gas project last year.
Late last year the Trump administration approved Hilcorp Energy’s plan to drill in the arctic Ocean north of Alaska, the first time oil would be produced from federal waters in the arctic. Hilcorp is the largest privately held independent exploration and production company in the United States, dedicated to the safe and responsible production of energy. The company promotes integrity as its number one core value.
The federal approval is conditional, and the company would still have to obtain other federal permits.
The Center for Biological Diversity opposes the project, saying it poses too great a threat to the environment and the climate.
“Opening the arctic to offshore oil drilling is a disaster waiting to happen,” says Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
As environmental extremists in the US continue to oppose the country’s expansion into the arctic, our global rivals are virtually unfettered by either onerous regulations or powerful environmental lobbying groups.
Unfettered operations lead to accidents. If a spill should occur in the Russian arctic, those opposed to US arctic exploration will no doubt be prepared to use it as ammunition to further oppose our own operations.
It’s time for the US to get serious about its place in the real world, or surrender it to less restrained nations.
Chris can be reached at email@example.com