Coast Guard Says It’s Ready for Offshore Drilling in Arctic

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.