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Obama, Arctic drilling, and highways and icebreakers

Obama, Arctic drilling, and highways and icebreakers
The Arctic, viewed by some as a burgeoning frontier for offshore energy - and, therefore, tanker shipping - has presented a study in contradictions for the Obama administration.

On one hand, Obama has sought to make “climate change” and greenhouse gas reduction a signature issue. But, conversely, the President has supported the initiatives of Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea- to the north of Alaska - much to the chagrin of staunch environmentalists.

The subject turned to icebreakers - something of a sore-point for Shell due to the July 2015 grounding of the breaker Fennica, enroute to the region - during Obama’s beginning of September visit to Alaska. In an acknowledgement of the resource challenges that have hampered the US Coast Guard (USCG), which is now down to two functioning breakers, the President has come out in support of funding for additional USCG icebreakers, which will require legislative action. He is also seeking to speed up funding to advance the delivery of the USCG’s next ice-breaker from 2022 to 2020.

Though Shell’s drilling, if it comes to pass (some $7 billion has already been sunk into its efforts including the 2008 payment for leases) will require ice breakers on standby, Obama’s position has broader implications. In the Administration’s prepared statement, the inference of the US playing catch-up with other nations promoting shipping in the region is strong. It said, in part, “The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search-and-rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability…”

Senators from Alaska, though still hoping for a comprehensive Arctic programme, that would address shipping issues including renewed efforts to properly chart the waters, from the Obama camp, were still pleased. Senator Daniel Sullivan remarked: “The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers. Right now, the Russians have superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”