ARCTIC: NORTHCOM’s Arctic plans, Alaska Oil Drilling,

March 20, 2013 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

NORTHCOM looks North

Coast Guard photo

Coast Guard photo

Increased activity in the Arctic — brought on by the decrease in icebound waters during the summer months — could lead to more requests for U.S. and Canadian military assistance to other government agencies, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) says.

U.S. Army Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today (March 19) that “other traditional military actors” are already setting priorities for the region. For example: Russia is actively recapitalizing its Arctic-focused fleet. And China — which doesn’t even have any territory in the Arctic, but is looking for maritime short cuts in the High North to cut the travel time of its merchant ships — is acquiring a second icebreaker. The U.S. has two ice breakers — the Healy and the massive Polar Star, both based in Seattle — far from the Arctic.

In his testimony before the committee, Jacoby — who also commands the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — said NORTHCOM and NORAD have signed an agreement with the Canadian Joint Operations Command to support other government departments and agencies “in response to threats and hazards in the region when requested or directed.”

Sea lanes across the Arctic have been opening up with the summer melt of sea ice in recent years. For the first time, this accessability is expected to draw more oil drilling, commercial fishing, shipping activity and sightseeing in the harsh environment (See March 6 posting on 4GWAR)

Jacoby also said U.S. military leaders were reaching out to engage with the Russian military, which has been expanding its modernization and training efforts “that extend the range of patrol activities by their air forces.”

The fourth annual Vigilant Eagle counter hijacking exercise between the U.S. and Russia is slated for August 2013. It will be a live-fly exercise involving a variety of NORAD and Russian military aircraft.

Fix it, or Lose it

The U.S. government is banning Shell Oil from drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic waters until it overhauls how it manages it’s drilling operations.

In one of his last acts before leaving office, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a press conference call March 14 that the oil company  “screwed up” its preliminary drilling operations in 2012 and would not be allowed back until the oil giant developed an integrated management plan.

Salazar’s decision came after a new report found that Shell’s contractors were repeatedly ill-prepared to meet the demands of operating in the harsh Arctic environment, the Los Angeles Times reported.

During its first efforts in the Chukchi and  Beaufort seas, Shell suffered a number of mishaps including the grounding of its Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska. Another Shell drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Shell has already said it will not be coming back to drill in Alaskan waters until 2014.

The grounding of Shell’s Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska was the most heavily publicized incident in a season plagued with misadventures. Shell’s second drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, drifted and came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the report said, because of contractor Noble Corp.’s use of “only the minimum amount of anchor chain” and failure to have a contingency plan for bad weather.

The report’s harshest criticism was directed at Shell’s management of its contractors, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper site said. “The review said the company failed to make sure its contractors were up to operating in Arctic conditions, the Guardian reported.

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Entry filed under: Africa, National Security and Defense, Technology, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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