ARCTIC: New Sea Routes Possible, Oil Drilling a Little Less So

March 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm Leave a comment

Busy Arctic by 2050?

Arctic Regions_500By 2050, according to a new scientific report, warming climate is expected to create new sea routes through the once impenetrable ice of the Arctic, Reuters reports.

Increasingly warm temperatures could also make the Northwest Passage in the waters north of Canada an economically viable shipping route. Now, only at the end of most summers is it passable. The ice could also open up a route — for medium icebreakers — directly over the North Pole by mid-century, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That’s welcome news for countries like China that would like to take a shorter Arctic route to export their manufactured export goods to Europe. But other countries, like Canada, worry about retaining sovereignty over their Arctic coast and the mineral wealth projected to lie beneath the frigid waters. The change in Arctic sea ice has increased concerns about a Cold Rush to the High North for untapped reserves of oil, other mineral resources and fish — sparking future international boundary and right-of-way disputes.

There is also concern about the difficulties of mounting an oil spill cleanup or search and rescue operation in the remote and still hostile environment.

The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth because sun-reflecting, light-colored ice is frequently replaced by sun-absorbing dark-colored water. The result: more melting ice.  Last September, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Arctic sea ice had melted to its lowest recorded level.

“Because of this, activity in the most remote reaches of Alaska continues to evolve and grow,” Admiral Robert Papp said in his annual State of the Coast Guard address last month. That  activity includes planned oil drilling “in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, foreign tankers using the northern sea routes which transit through the Bering Strait and Sea, and small cruise ships pressing even further into the Arctic,” the Coast Guard commandant added.

The nearest Coast Guard facility to the Arctic is Kodiak Air Station, Alaska — nearly 1,000 miles away by air. Last year, Papp deployed a National Security Cutter and two ocean-going buoy tenders that can navigate icy waters to the polar region as part of the nine-month Arctic Shield exercise. Two MH-60 helicopters were also located temporarily at Barrow, 300 miles above the Arctic Circle.

Papp said he would be issuing the first comprehensive Coast Guard Arctic Strategy this month.

Shell: Wait ’til Next Year

After two of its drilling ships got banged up in Alaska’s waters last year, Royal Dutch Shell oil company says it won’t be returning to the Arctic in 2013 to drill for oil. But in a statement, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum said it was only a “pause” in its exploration drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

“Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop,” the Feb. 27 statement said. Two Shell oil drilling ships were damaged and have been towed to Asia for repairs leaving too little time for their return for the company to commence drilling operations in the short summer season.

The Interior Department, the Coast Guard and the Justice Department are all reviewing Shell’s operations in Alaskan waters — including weather delays, environmental and safety delays, the collapse of it’s spill-containment equipment, the New York Times reported.

The Washington Post reported that Shell’s drilling barge Kulluk was damaged after it ran aground in a storm off Alaska’s Kodiak Island two months ago. Last July, another drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, nearly ran aground at Unalaska Island, Alaska, after dragging its anchor.

Shell has invested more than $4.5 billion on its Alaska drilling venture after a multi-year effort to convince federal officials it could drill safely in the Arctic.

U.S. Coast Guard A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter hovers above the National Security Cutter Bertholf during Operation Arctic Shield 2012. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Tamargo)

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Entry filed under: Arctic, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, Technology, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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