Papp Jr, Feb 2012 – Robert J. Papp. Jr. is a former United States Coast Guard admiral and served as the 24th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. (Robert J., “The Emerging Arctic Frontier” US Naval Institute, http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2012-02/emerging-arctic-frontier)
The world may seem to be growing smaller, but its seas are growing bigger—particularly in the great North, where a widening water-highway beckons both with resources and challenges. As a maritime nation, the United States relies on the sea for our prosperity, trade, transportation, and security. We are also an Arctic nation. The Arctic region—the Barents, Beaufort, and Chukchi seas and the Arctic Ocean—is the emerging maritime frontier, vital to our national interests, economy and security. 1 The Arctic Ocean, in the northern region of the Arctic Circle, is changing from a solid expanse of inaccessible ice fields into a growing navigable sea, attracting increased human activity and unlocking access to vast economic potential and energy resources. In the 35 years since I first saw Kotzebue, Alaska, on the Chukchi Sea as a junior officer, the sea ice has receded from the coast so much that when I returned last year the coastal area was ice-free. The shipping, oil-and-gas, and tourism industries continue to expand with the promise of opportunity and fortune in previously inaccessible areas. Experts estimate that in another 25 years the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free during the summer months. 2 This change from “hard” to “soft” water, growing economic interests and energy demands, and increasing use of the seas for maritime activities by commercial, native, and recreational users demands a persistent, capable U.S. Coast Guard presence in the Arctic region. Our mandate to protect people on the sea, protect people from threats delivered by sea, and protect the sea itself applies in the Arctic equally as in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The difference is that in the rest of the maritime domain, we have an established presence of shore-based forces, small boats, cutters, and aircraft supported by permanent infrastructure and significant operating experience. Although the Coast Guard has operated in southern Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska, and Bering Sea for much of our history, in the higher latitudes we have little infrastructure and limited operating experience, other than icebreaking. Historically, such capabilities were not needed. Year-round ice, extreme weather, and the vast distances to logistical support, prevented all but icebreakers or ice-strengthened ships from operating there. As a result, commercial enterprise on any significant scale was nonexistent. But the Arctic is emerging as the new maritime frontier, and the Coast Guard is challenged in responding to the current and emerging demands. The economic promise of oil and gas production in the Arctic is increasingly attractive as supply of energy resources from traditional sources will struggle to meet demand without significant price increases. The Arctic today holds potentially 90 billion barrels of oil, 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, 84 percent of which is expected to be found in offshore areas. This is estimated to be 15 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of natural gas reserves. Oil companies are bidding hundreds of millions of dollars to lease U.S. mineral rights in these waters and continue to invest in developing commercial infrastructure in preparation for exploration and production, and readiness to respond to potential oil spills or other emergencies. 3 In August, the Department of the Interior granted Royal Dutch Shell conditional approval to begin drilling exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska starting next summer. ConocoPhillips may begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea in the next few years. Also, Russia has announced plans for two oil giants to begin drilling as early as 2015, and Canada has granted exploration permits for Arctic drilling. 4 The fisheries and seafood industry in the southern Arctic region (the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska) sustains thousands of jobs and annually produces approximately 1.8 million metric tons’ worth of catch valued at more than $1.3 billion. 5 Although subsistence-hunting has occurred in the higher latitudes for centuries, as waters warm, fish and other commercial stocks may migrate north, luring the commercial fishing industry with them. As the Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly navigable it will offer new routes for global maritime trade from Russia and Europe to Asia and the Americas, saving substantial transit time and fuel costs from traditional trade routes. In summer 2011, two Neste oil tankers transited the Northeast Passage from Murmansk to the Pacific Ocean and onward to South Korea, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin pledged to turn it into an important shipping route. 6 Because of these opportunities and the clamor of activities they bring, a legally certain and predictable set of rights and obligations addressing activity in the Arctic is paramount. The United States must be part of such a legal regime to protect and advance our security and economic interests. In particular, for the past several years there has been a race by countries other than the United States to file internationally recognized claims on the maritime regions and seabeds of the Arctic. Alaska has more than 1,000 miles of coastline above the Arctic Circle on the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. 7 Our territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from the coast, and the exclusive economic zone extends to 200 nautical miles from shore (just as along the rest of the U.S. coastline). That’s more than 200,000 square miles of water over which the Coast Guard has jurisdiction. Below the surface, the United States also may assert sovereign rights over natural resources on its continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles. However, with accession to the Law of the Sea Convention, the United States has the potential to exercise additional sovereign rights over resources on an extended outer continental shelf, which might reach as far as 600 nautical miles into the Arctic from the Alaskan coast. Last summer, the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Healy (WAGB-20) was under way in the Arctic Ocean, working with the Canadian icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent to continue efforts to map the extent of the continental shelf. The United States is not a party to the Law of the Sea Convention. While this country stands by, other nations are moving ahead in perfecting rights over resources on an extended continental shelf. Russia, Canada, Denmark (through Greenland), and Norway—also Arctic nations—have filed extended continental-shelf claims under the Law of the Sea Convention that would give them exclusive rights to oil and gas resources on that shelf. They are making their case publicly in the media, in construction of vessels to patrol these waters, and in infrastructure along their Arctic coastline. Even China, which has no land-mass connectivity with the Arctic Ocean, has raised interest by conducting research in the region and building icebreakers. 8 The United States should accede to the Law of the Sea Convention without delay to protect our national security interests: sovereignty, economy, and energy. Wherever human activity thrives, government has a responsibility to uphold the rule of lawand ensure the safety and security of the people. The Coast Guard is responsible for performing this mission on the nation’s waters, as we have done in parts of Alaska over our 221-year history. Coast Guard operations in the Arctic region are not new. Nearly 150 years ago, we were the federal presence in the “District of Alaska,” administering justice, settling disputes, providing medical care, enforcing sovereignty, and rescuing people in distress. Our heritage is filled with passages of Coast Guardsmen who braved the sea and ice in sailing ships and early steam ships to rescue mariners, quash illegal poaching, and explore the great North. World War II ushered in the service’s first icebreakers. In 1957, three Coast Guard cutters made headlines by becoming the first American vessels to circumnavigate the North American continent through the Northwest Passage.That mission was in support of an early Arctic imperative to establish the Distant Early Warning Line radar stations to detect ballistic-missile launches targeting the United States during the Cold War. The Coast Guard presence in southern Alaska, the Bering Sea, and Gulf of Alaska continues to be persistent and capable, matching the major population and economic concentrations and focus of maritime activities. The 17th Coast Guard District is responsible for directing the service’s operations in Alaska with: • two sectors • two air stations • twelve permanently stationed cutters and normally one major cutter forward-deployed from another area • three small-boat stations • six marine safety units or detachments • one regional-fisheries training center • five other major mission-support commands. 9 We ensure maritime safety, security, and stewardship in the region by conducting search and rescue, fisheries enforcement, inspection and certification of ships and marine facilities to ensure compliance with U.S. and international safety and security laws and regulations, and preventing and responding to oil spills and other water pollution.