US to pursue Arctic seas energy despite Gulf spill - senator

21 May 2010 19:39  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US will develop its oil and natural gas resources in Arctic territorial waters and should build a deepwater Arctic port for US Navy and Coastguard ships to protect its energy and mineral interests in the region, a top senator said on Friday.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) told an oceans law conference that she believed the US would pursue and develop its offshore oil and natural gas resources in the Arctic despite risks exemplified by the still-developing BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Deepwater Horizon incident may have made us more reticent to drill in the deep offshore, but it did nothing to reduce our need for oil and gas and it did nothing to change the value of those resources in what is still a growing global economy,” she said in a speech to a conference sponsored by the Center for Oceans Law and Policy (COLP).

“The spill in the Gulf of Mexico has shown that there will always be risks and impacts associated with producing energy,” she continued. “We must take every appropriate step to minimize the risks into the future.”

“But we also need to be rational in our response to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy,” she said. “We should be careful and not pass reactionary legislation hat hasn’t been fully thought through.”

Citing the Deepwater Horizon disaster, some in the US Congress have already called for a permanent ban on all US offshore energy development, or for restoration of a ban on drilling off the US east and west coasts and much of Alaska’s coastline. That ban expired in 2008.

“Even as we take steps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we’re going to continue to need oil and gas for decades to come,” she said. Murkowski is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Murkowski cited estimates by the US Geological Survey (USGS) of some 15bn barrels of oil in US territorial waters of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast and another 8bn barrels of oil resources in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north coast.

“We also think [the Arctic region] holds huge amounts of other minerals - such as coal, nickel, copper, tungsten, lead, zinc, gold, silver, diamonds, manganese, chromium and titanium,” she said.

Saying that the US could not afford to ignore its Arctic assets, she noted that Russia was moving quickly to access Arctic energy and mineral resources.

Russia is building the first offshore oil rig that can withstand temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius and heavy pack ice,” she said. 

Russia was also reducing taxes and bureaucratic impediments to encourage oil and gas development in the Arctic, she said, and the Russian navy was planning a new icebreaker fleet to facilitate energy exploration in the region.

She said that Congress and the administration should back a study and plans by the US Navy to develop a deepwater port in the Arctic somewhere along Alaska’s coast to support US strategic interests in the Arctic.

“Oil and natural gas are still the most economically valuable energy sources in the world,” she said, “and I have to predict that we will see a measured but certain US expansion into Arctic lands and waters.”

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