Remarks to Arctic Imperative Summit

June 19, 2011 ***As Prepared For Delivery***


***As Prepared For Delivery***

JUNE 19, 2011

Good evening and welcome to the Arctic Imperative.  First I want to thank Alice Rogoff and her staff for putting together a fantastic agenda and very impressive list of speakers and participants.   You have truly brought the Arctic conversation to Alaska on a world scale and I am very pleased to be able to be here and participate.  I speak frequently at conferences about our nation’s role in the Arctic but somehow it doesn’t seem as pressing when it’s 100 degrees in Washington D.C.  It’s much more relevant here at home in the cool of Mt. Alyeska.

I have to tell you, the topics that you are covering in this summit are truly on the leading edge of Arctic issues.  I would love to stay and listen to the sessions, but, unfortunately, I need to return to my duties in Washington D.C.

It is absolutely critical that we are having this Arctic conversation right now.  Interest in the Arctic continues to increase as the impacts of climate change and globalization on an ice-diminished Arctic become known.  Tomorrow you start the conversation with a panel that addresses the question as to why the Arctic matters.  Why should someone in the Midwest care about the Arctic and whether the United States is an Arctic nation?  And what does it mean to be an Arctic nation?

With some of the leading Arctic experts from around the world here at this conference, I hope you give focus to answer that question.  One thing I know for sure, that the United States government is waking up to the fact that we are an Arctic nation and showing more leadership.

As most of you know, I recently attended the 7th Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Nuuk, Greenland with Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of the Interior Salazar.  

The trip was historic because it was the first time a Secretary of State has led the United States delegation to an Arctic Council meeting.  It was also the first time a member of Congress has attended. We met with the foreign ministers of the eight Arctic Council nations and representatives of indigenous groups to discuss issues related to Arctic governance, climate change, environmental protection, and watched the ministers sign a historic search and rescue agreement. 

As an Alaskan, it was music to my ears to hear Secretary Clinton say that the United States is an Arctic nation and as such we have responsibilities in the region.  We are an Arctic nation because of Alaska and its indigenous people.  The acknowledgment by the Secretary of State was also important for the other Arctic nations to hear as many had wondered when the U.S. would step it up on the Arctic. 

There were other positive outcomes from the Council meeting in Nuuk.  The search and rescue agreement, the first ever legally binding agreement among Arctic states negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council, will strengthen the cooperation on search and rescue between Arctic states.  As Arctic sea ice decreases, maritime activities are increasing in the Arctic. Aviation traffic is also on the rise as new polar aviation routes cross the Arctic air space in several directions.  Limited rescue resources, challenging weather conditions, and the remoteness of the area render SAR operations difficult in the Arctic, making coordination among the Arctic nations imperative.

The conference was also important to learn what others in the region are doing.  It is frustrating to see the United States struggling so mightily with our economy and the present fiscal environment while the other Arctic nations are moving forward with significant investments in the region. 

Russia has recognized that their natural resource future lies in the Arctic and they are investing heavily.  It was very significant when, after 40 years of negotiating, Norway and Russia signed a historic new treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. There had been a long history of cooperation on straddling fish stocks, but the new treaty also addresses energy development across the new boundary and created a joint operating agreement.  This treaty also provides an excellent example of the type of international cooperation that is possible in the Arctic.

The Russians are investing in the port of Murmansk as the base for the Russian Arctic with marine infrastructure.  Some of the critical investments will clearly be public-private partnerships including foreign capital. They are also contemplating upgrading their nuclear ice breaker fleet while continuing to build ice strengthened commercial ships to carry minerals, hydrocarbons and cargo through ice covered northern waters.

In the United States, however, it is a different story.  While the Coast Guard, Navy and Army Corps of Engineers continue to study the potential infrastructure needs in Alaska, we are not moving forward with any significant new investments, or strategies to do so.  With the scheduled decommissioning of the POLAR SEA, the Coast Guard will only maintain one heavy ice breaker in its fleet, which is not expected to return to service until 2013. 

While the Coast Guard does have a medium endurance ice breaker, HEALY, the cutter is not equipped to handle the thick multi-year ice that is present in the Arctic.   It is a tremendous frustration to me that even though we all acknowledge the need for new heavy ice breakers, we have made minimal progress on developing a plan to refurbish or replace the aging polar class icebreakers.

It has been projected that a seasonal ice free Arctic Ocean was decade’s away and maritime shipping through the Northwest Passage, Northern Sea Route and direct transits across the Arctic Ocean were going to be few and far between.  But last year there were five Northern Sea Route transits including a number of experimental trans-Arctic voyages. The Russian Federation has received 15 ice breaker escort requests to provide navigational support through the Northern Sea Route for this year.  Last year, they only had four requests.  While I recognize that most of these transits are proof of concept, it certainly highlights the fact that our projections for maritime transportation through the Arctic are being exceeded quite rapidly.

Energy development is another area of potential in the Arctic, but where we in the U.S. have not been leading.  As we know, The Arctic holds vast amounts of energy, but until recently, the resources of the Arctic were deemed to be too difficult to access and expensive to develop.

But with increasing access and high energy and mineral prices, the Arctic, which is estimated to contain approximately 22 percent of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves, is now being actively explored and developed.  Six of the eight member nations of the Arctic Council are exploring or producing energy resources in their waters.

This makes energy exploration among the most important and perhaps the most serious issues for Arctic policy moving forward. This includes conventional oil and natural gas as well as methane hydrates and other less conventional forms.  Offshore Alaska we are estimating 15 billion barrels of oil in a concentrated area of the Chukchi Sea and 8 billion barrels in the Beaufort Sea, and while we have had serious delays in exploration, I am hopeful that exploratory wells will prove up next summer. 

Energy development and protection of the Arctic environment must go hand in hand, and I was pleased that the Arctic Council announced the formation of a new task force that will negotiate measures for oil spill preparedness and response throughout the region.

The decision to launch these negotiations is evidence of the strong commitment to proactively address emerging issues in the region and to create international protocols to prevent and clean up offshore oil spills in areas of the region that are becoming increasingly accessible to exploration.   The U.S., and more specifically, Alaska, must be engaged.

While some have described a scenario where the Arctic is undergoing a “race for resources”, after seeing the international cooperation at the Arctic Council, I believe what we have is a race for cooperation and sustainable management.   

The Arctic offers perhaps the best opportunity to work collaboratively and is one area in which the Obama Administration can highlight international cooperation in the implementation of U.S. foreign policy.   This follows the Administration’s intent to “reset” relations with Russia and the Arctic is the perfect place to do so.

So, as we look north to the future-what is in store for the Arctic?  I believe that the pace of change in the Arctic DEMANDS that greater attention be focused on the region. The implications of the dynamic changing Arctic for U.S. security, economic, environmental, and political interests depend on it.

I give you all my commitment that I will do my part- to move the Law of the Sea Treaty through the Senate;  to advocate for new ice breakers and infrastructure in the Arctic;  to support Arctic research and  to encourage the United States to continue increasing its’ role in the region and with the international Arctic community.

And I challenge all of you, as Arctic leaders in this country and abroad, to develop some very specific recommendations and outcomes from this summit.   You can help move the Arctic conversation forward and provide us all with valuable insight and initiatives.

We can make the case for the strategic importance of the Arctic to the United States and we will know we’ve been successful when the Iowa farmer proudly acknowledges that he lives in an Arctic nation.

My thanks to those who will help contribute to this important dialogue over the next few days.  And Alice, thank you for this Arctic Imperative.