Operation Arctic Shield 2012, now under way, is part of the Coast Guard’s plan of expansion, in preparation for planned offshore oil industry activity in Alaska’s Arctic waters, says Commandant Robert Papp Jr.
“This summer we are preparing for Arctic activity driven by the oil industry’s planned drilling operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas,” Papp said in remarks to a US Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee in Kodiak Aug. 6.
US Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chaired the hearing at Air Station Kodiak, at the request of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to discuss the need for a robust Coast Guard presence as global warming melts sea ice, opening the area to more ship traffic, tourism and possibly commercial fishing.
Much concern has been voiced over whether offshore oil exploration and increased ship traffic pose potential environmental concerns, how to guard against them, and how to deal with them, should they occur.
Shell Oil is planning to drill exploratory wells this summer in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Murkowski said that Shell has made clear and the Coast Guard has made clear the obligation for Shell to handle any spill occurring as a result of their operations as a company.
“Partnering closely with federal, state, local and tribal government partners, and working with industry as the regulated parties, the Coast Guard is ready for operations… with Operation Arctic Shield,” Papp said.
“The lessons we learn this year will inform our planning and strategy, to ensure we remain always ready to ensure the safety, security and stewardship of the emerging maritime frontier of the Arctic.”
Arctic Shield 2012, said Papp, is a three-pronged interagency operation consisting of outreach, operations, and assessment of capabilities from February through October of this year. It will include delivering education, awareness and health services for Arctic communities and outlying Native villages. It will involve deployment of major cutter forces, air assets, communication equipment, and mission support to conduct the Coast Guard’s missions, Papp said.
In addition, an oil spill contingency exercise in Barrow will test Coast Guard and Navy skimming equipment launched from a 225-foot Coast Guard buoy tender. “Arctic shield 2012 has been carefully tailored to deliver the appropriate set of capabilities to this remote area,” Papp said. “I am very proud of our team in the 17th Coast Guard District for bringing the Arctic Shield plan to fruition.”
Papp said the Coast Guard has deployed the Coast Guard vessel Bertholf, the first national security cutter, to the southern Arctic region, to provide an operational presence, and command and control, in areas where the Coast Guard lacks the permanent infrastructure of a coastal sector.