Dramatically increased shipping traffic in the Arctic along with offshore oil and gas development require enhanced Coast Guard equipment, international shipping standards and new port facilities to service all that activity, seven federal and private sector experts told U.S. Senator Mark Begich today during a Senate field hearing in Anchorage.
Representatives from the Coast Guard, Shell Alaska, Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC) and others testified about maritime activity and development in the Arctic before the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, which Begich chairs.
"Those who testified today shared a common concern--the dramatic increase in shipping activity in the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Strait," said Sen. Begich. "Many people don't realize that more than 500 ships passed through those waters last year. Many of the vessels were from countries that don't abide by the same safety and environmental standards we do and that's a real problem."
With the additional traffic, Arctic shipping issues need to be addressed. The Coast Guard testified that many federal agencies had 'gang-tackled' the issue of oil and gas drilling safety paying less attention to maritime shipping, the more likely cause of a spill.
"It's clear to me that maritime traffic and resource development are growing in the Arctic," said Sen. Begich. "We need to get ahead of the game now so that the people of Alaska can benefit from the resource development, the jobs that will result, and the potential for revenue-sharing. With that vision in mind, it is our duty to ensure that agencies like the Coast Guard and NOAA are equipped to do the work ahead of them."
Sen. Begich has been a vocal supporter of Arctic development including OCS drilling, the need for infrastructure development to support increased Arctic drilling, and a strengthened Coast Guard presence in the Arctic. He has repeatedly pressed the Obama administration to expedite the permitting process and as a result, Shell Oil became the first producer in 15 years to initiate drilling operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska's northern coast. At today's hearing, Shell VP Pete Slaiby noted that developers had seen a significant improvement in the efficiency of federal permitting as a result of the Interagency Working Group on Alaskan Energy that Senator Begich championed.