Wednesday, July 15, 2015

US Urged to be More Involved in Increased Arctic Activity

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, says increased vessel activity is going to happen in the ice-diminishing Arctic with or without US involvement, and urged private-public partnerships to get operational support in place.

“Make no mistake,” Murkowski said in an address to the sixth Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations, “an increase in Arctic activity will happen with or without the United States’ involvement, in Russian waters, Canadian waters, and with other nations’ vessels, including non-Arctic nations, transiting through American waters.”

The Alaska Republican, who addressed the issue in a keynote address at the Pacific Maritime Magazine Promise of the Arctic conference in June, reiterated her concerns on the first day of the symposium, co-hosted by the US National Ice Center and the US Arctic Research Commission, which was held July 14-16 in Washington DC.

The biennial symposia, which began in 2001, focuses on US naval operations and national strategic issues in an ice-free Arctic. Symposia held in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 expanded the discussion to include other nations and the impacts on their maritime operations in an ice-diminishing Arctic, including fisheries, commercial transportation, oil and gas exploration, exploitation, and oceanographic research.

The continuing reduction in Arctic sea ice extent remains a central focus.

The US has a strategic geographic advantage that no other nation can match, Murkowski said.
On one side of the Arctic lies the Bering Strait, a chokepoint for trans-Arctic activity as the only maritime route between the Pacific and the Arctic, while on the other side are three routes to the Atlantic- off of Norway, between Iceland and Greenland, and between Greenland and Canada, with Maine positioned just to the south, she said. “It makes good sense to have facilities in place to monitor, accommodate and benefit from this traffic, from a national security perspective, an economic perspective, and an environmental perspective,” she said.

Still given the current fiscal limits of local, state and federal budgets, private and international financing will be needed to help develop the needed infrastructure, from ports to navigational aids, and perhaps even for icebreakers, she said.

Several of the previous extensive discussions on Arctic development have included concerns on the infrastructure needed to deal with the environmental impact of increased Arctic shipping traffic, the potential of toxic spills and their potential adverse impact on fish, marine mammals and the environment.

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