With the United States assuming the role of Chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year, it is important that we, as a nation, have a strong and cohesive agenda going into the position.
There has been concern over what exactly America’s role will be, ranging from focusing solely on environmental issues and ignoring resource development, to status-quo leadership, all the way to emphasis on shipping and tourism. Not one of these avenues is a poor choice, but when one path comes at the expense of another we can foresee a steep decline in America’s leadership abilities.
America is miserably lacking in arctic capabilities, highlighted most significantly with our two icebreakers. To be the possessor of the world’s strongest and largest military, yet only have two functioning icebreakers, only one of which is capable of breaking heavy ice, is tragic and shocking to say the least. As the arctic region becomes more important to the world and to Americans, our government needs to increase its arctic presence. The Arctic Council is exactly where America can jumpstart its authority, and despite the noted concern earlier, it is beginning to appear that we are on the right path.
Admiral Robert Papp, retired U.S. Coast Guard, is the Special Representative to the Arctic, and he will be heading the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In a recent interview with Fortune.com, he gave deep insight into how he sees America moving forward in the arctic and what is needed to make the move possible.
Admiral Papp’s comments give us high hope for America’s upcoming role.
Referring to the nation’s developed ports and infrastructure, Admiral Papp highlights how Alaska is different in this regard. Alaska lacks arctic deep-water ports, lacks fiber optics and sophisticated communications, and the infrastructure in general is seriously absent. Papp further discusses the desire to better the lives of Alaska’s Natives and those living in the arctic.
We have many villages up there still relying on diesel generators running 24 hours a day to provide energy. We need companies to invest and people to look at small grid power systems, combinations of wind and diesel, thermal energy, hydro electric energy things that can be tailored for these individual villages depending on their location. There is crying need for clean water if you can believe that. It’s a tremendous challenge up there … When we talk about economic well being, we are really in some instances starting at the basics of food, water and shelter up there. I see that as a tremendous potential for companies to invest and come up with solutions that may solve those issues.
Highly important is that Admiral Papp recognizes the need for resource development. It is clear that he understands Alaska’s need for resource development, but also he understands that Alaska knows how to safely develop its resources. He highlights the difference in Alaska’s coastal oil formations, specifically by noting the shallow depth of the waters and the low pressure of the oil formations when compared to the Gulf Coast. Equally important is that he understands that everyone wants to do this right – everyone is working to ensure the best possible outcomes for all parties involved.
I support drilling that is done in an environmentally sound manner which follows all the guidelines and preparations and policies that are established by the Department of the Interior. When I went to Alaska during my visit in August, I listened to everybody. I listened to the Alaska natives. I listened to the NGOs, the environmentalists, the academics. But I also met with Shell, ConocoPhillips and BP while I was up there to learn a little more about what their interests are. I remain convinced that, even though they are in it for a business, they understand fully they need to protect the environment. The Arctic provides us with different challenges than some of the drilling that goes on in other areas of the world. They are not insurmountable but they have to be done in a very deliberate and circumspect manner. I believe the oil companies are doing that and, believe me, they are getting plenty of oversight as they do it. Yes, I support it but we have to keep in mind the rights of the indigenous people up there. Along the North Slope, there is the Bowhead whale corridor. There will be no drilling within that corridor, no leases sold because that is a traditional migrating route for the whales. This was based on science and also in consultation with Alaskan natives using their traditional knowledge. So, I think you can bring all parties to the table, respect their opinions and come up with a balanced approach.
You can read the full interview here.