Hot Topic in D.C.: Arctic Policy

Arctic energy is in the news as summer steams into Washington, D.C. Major issues include the midpoint of the two-year U.S. chair of the Arctic Council; public campaigns for and against including the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the 2017-22 offshore oil and gas leasing plan; and plans for the United States to build the first heavy icebreaker in 40 years.

Arctic energy deserves more attention than it usually gets. The estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable resources in the U.S. Chukchi and Beaufort Seas is 23.6 bbl and 104 tcf of natural gas, according to 2016 data from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Resources – equivalent to over half that estimated for the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico.

Large energy resources also occur in the onshore and offshore Arctic of other nations.

Arctic Council

The White House and Congress recently scheduled hearings, briefings and reports to mark the midpoint of the 2015-17 U.S. chair of the Arctic Council.

The Council, which includes Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, the United States, and six organizations representing Arctic Indigenous peoples, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The Council promotes cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states and Arctic inhabitants on common issues, particularly sustainable development and environmental protection.

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Arctic energy is in the news as summer steams into Washington, D.C. Major issues include the midpoint of the two-year U.S. chair of the Arctic Council; public campaigns for and against including the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the 2017-22 offshore oil and gas leasing plan; and plans for the United States to build the first heavy icebreaker in 40 years.

Arctic energy deserves more attention than it usually gets. The estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable resources in the U.S. Chukchi and Beaufort Seas is 23.6 bbl and 104 tcf of natural gas, according to 2016 data from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Resources – equivalent to over half that estimated for the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico.

Large energy resources also occur in the onshore and offshore Arctic of other nations.

Arctic Council

The White House and Congress recently scheduled hearings, briefings and reports to mark the midpoint of the 2015-17 U.S. chair of the Arctic Council.

The Council, which includes Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, the United States, and six organizations representing Arctic Indigenous peoples, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The Council promotes cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states and Arctic inhabitants on common issues, particularly sustainable development and environmental protection.

The Council continues to advance two agreements for multinational cooperation: the 2011 agreement on Arctic search-and-rescue and the 2013 agreement on marine oil pollution preparedness and response. Currently the Council is preparing a database of response assets and updating a field guide on best practices for response. It is also incorporating recommendations of the National Academies of Science “Arctic Spill Response Assessment,” published in 2014.

On the scientific front, the Council expects to have a binding agreement to enhance scientific cooperation in the Arctic ready for signing at the Fairbanks, Alaska, Ministerial Meeting in 2017. In addition, the White House will host the first Arctic Science Ministerial on Sept. 28, aiming to expand collaboration on Arctic science, research, monitoring and data sharing.

OCS 2017-22 Leasing Plan

During the multi-year development of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) 2017-22 oil and gas leasing plan, the Department of the Interior has received hundreds of thousands of comments from groups advocating to include or remove the U.S. Arctic from the plan. (The mid- and south-Atlantic areas were removed from an earlier version of the plan.) The latest iteration of the plan was open for comment until mid-June. The Department of the Interior will review all the comments before releasing an updated plan for public comment.

Comments range from one-sentence statements in support or opposition to offshore drilling to detailed analyses of the potential impacts of the plan.

Generally, environmental groups stress the environmental sensitivity of the Arctic or the need to stop producing all fossil energy. Alaskans, including indigenous groups, generally support Arctic drilling, citing the economic benefits of developing OCS resources.

Notably, a group of former military leaders announced their support for Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea leasing, arguing that the United States needs to maintain its involvement in the Arctic to protect U.S. interests and promote cooperation. This is a growing concern, as China, Russia and other countries increase their Arctic activities, especially shipping, and energy and mineral resource development.

Several bills have been introduced in the House and Senate either in support of or opposed to Alaska Arctic lease sales. None of these are likely to become law.

Plans for a New Icebreaker

As the summer extent of Arctic ice has shrunk, commercial shipping and even tourist cruises have increased. This increases the need for icebreakers to be available for emergencies. In addition, security experts argue for the United States showing the flag in the Arctic, where multiple nations are staking claims for territory beyond their traditional 200-mile exclusive economic zones.

The United States is conspicuously lagging in icebreaking capacity. The one operational heavy-duty icebreaker, Polar Star, was commissioned in 1976. The United States also has a medium-duty icebreaker, the Healy, which was commissioned in 1999. The need for one or more new heavy-duty icebreakers has been discussed for many years, but this year both the White House and Congress show enthusiasm for expanding the icebreaker fleet. The president’s budget request for next year would fund a planning effort. Recently introduced House and Senate bills would instruct the Coast Guard or Navy to procure several heavy-duty polar icebreakers. More significantly, $1 billion is included in next year’s Defense Department appropriations for the Navy to start work on a heavy-duty icebreaker for the Coast Guard.

Register Now for Geosciences Congressional Visits Day, Sept. 13-14, 2016.

AAPG and other geoscience societies – including the American Geophysical Union, American Geoscience Institute and Geological Society of America – are once again arranging congressional visits this fall for our members.

The geo-societies will provide a half-day of background information and training on Sept.13, and will schedule and accompany you to meetings on Sept. 14.

This year, you can expect useful and informative meetings because Congress will be in session and interested in hearing about constituents’ interests and concerns before devoting the month of October to campaigning. In addition, as the next federal fiscal year looms on Oct. 1, legislators will be working to finalize appropriation bills to fund the government. You can provide information about funding concerns or about issues that may become appropriation bill riders; for example, bans on the implementation of federal regulations or restrictions on geoscience research.

For more information or to participate in Geo-CVD contact Edie Allison at (202) 643-6533 by Monday, Aug.15.

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