Senator Murkowski’s remarks to the CSIS Conference: Arctic Resource Potential & Development

Senator Murkowski’s remarks to the CSIS Conference: Arctic Resource Potential & Development
September 17, 2008

I appreciate the opportunity to be with you this morning and to welcome all of you. I do have a passion about the arctic, its home; you know you are passionate about where you are from; passionate and proud, but also a little anxious, at about this point in time.

We know that we have incredible resource wealth up north. We’ve known it and we’ve demonstrated it in our ability to move oil from Alaska’s North Slope down to the rest of the country. We know our resources as they related to natural gas and coal are enormous. But we also recognize that we are a long ways from the rest of the country. We always point to our strategic geography there at the top of the world and how we can get about to just any place on the globe and how we can get there quicker, faster, better—I sound like an advertisement for a logistics company—but we have a strategic location that is often overlooked. We are now on the map, and it’s not just because of Sarah Palin, we are on the map because people are recognizing the opportunities that await us in the north. They are starting to see these opportunities because things are being revealed.

The ice is receding, for better or worse. We are seeing a possibility up north that only the wildest explorer could have in the past. Things are happening at a rate that is exciting, yes, but also potentially very scary. Imagine yourself living in point barrow, right up there at the top of the state, your community, you pretty much know everybody that comes and goes. Last summer, 400 German tourists disembarked from their cruise ship and came into town. The people from barrow looking and ”where did you come from.” Well this is what's happening in that world up there. Its not only tourism it’s not only offshore exploration, its not only increased commercial traffic; the expansion of activity is almost unprecedented. So you re going have an opportunity here this morning to be focusing on the resources up north and the vast potential and what that means. But as you listen and as you ask question, I ask you to also keep in mind the other resources up north, the human resources. Think about the impact to the indigenous people of the arctic. Going from a world truly of subsistence lifestyle to one where you have commerce and activity that we’ve never really had to take into account. How do you balance offshore exploration and development with ensuring that the subsistence needs of the Inupiaq are met, as they wait for the migration of the bowhead whale to come through? We’ve got a balancing act that is before us in the Alaskan arctic.

[I] think that we are prepared to meet it, but we’ve got to be very aggressive in how we are dealing with the challenges that present themselves. Because as much as increased commerce will benefit us, as much as increased access to energy will benefit us, it also presents problems. What are the assets that we have up there in the event of some kind of a maritime disaster of an environmental disaster? We don’t have ports and harbors to speak of. There is no place to really refuel or restock up there. We have communication systems that are sorely lacking. So as we talk about the great potential, we also need to be thinking about how we prepare ourselves for these challenges. We need to act as the arctic nation that we are. I would hope that each and every one of you recognizes that America is an arctic nation. But I believe that most of the people in this country do not think about that, they do not know what our role is as an arctic nation, what our responsibility is an arctic nation, how we can contribute more as an arctic nation. So we’ve got an opportunity to kind of change peoples view of what is going on in Alaska. Its not just polar bears drifting on ice floes and Eskimos, you know, out in the great north. We need to help the rest of the country acknowledge, that what is happening in the arctic north, is also part of their opportunity, is part of our opportunity as a nation.

[The] Bush administration is working on an arctic policy. The last time we updated our arctic policy was in 1994. We are waiting, daily, the rollout of this policy. I am hopeful that we will know in the relatively short term when to expect that. It is long past time that we updated this. We need to be doing more in congress, the administration needs to be doing more as an administration, as a nation we need to be determining our priorities in the arctic. Because as we are thinking about other things, let me tell you, other countries are thinking about their role in the arctic and how they assert their claims whether its to expand it, areas on the outer-continental shelf. Russia has submitted their claim to the commission, under the Law of the Seas Treaty. Canada is looking at the area that they also claim. Our mapping shows that we could add an area the size equivalent to the state of California. But you know what were not a sig to the Law of the Sea Treaty, so were not able to submit our claim, not only are we not able to submit it, but we are not able to contend or argue that Russia’s claim is overlapping ours or that Canada may be overlapping ours in the Beaufort. So what does that mean if you are in the world that is looking at exploration up north and you’re not quite sure whether this is Canadian or whether this is US. Are you going to be sinking hundreds and millions, potentially billions of investment in this area? I would argue probably not.

There’s an article—I was glancing through my clips before I came over here this morning—there’s an article coming out of Moscow just this morning. Mr. Medveydev was speaking to the [UN] Security Council on the arctic itself and his comment is, “this is our responsibility and simply our direct duty to our decedents. We must surely and for the long term future, secure Russia’s interests in the arctic. ” He goes on to further state, “this region has strategic significance for us. Its development is directly tied to solving the long term tasks of the state and its competitiveness on the global markets.” You don’t think Russia is not focusing on what the opportunities are for them. From an energy perspective, most certainly, and moving to act on it. What do you think that planting of the Russian flag on the bottom of the sea bed was? If we just sit back and are polite and say well of course everybody is going to respect or potential claim because our mapping is good and sound and we know that this is rightfully ours. What makes us believe that this will truly continue to be what others have hopefully described as the zone of peace?

When there’s no problem up north, everybody’s happy, nobody’s really focusing attention on it. The hot spots in the world that get the attention, but what happens when things start to heat up because of the prospects. The USGS is going to report and give you the update on what we know on the latest surveys that come back, and what we know is the resource potential in the arctic is incredible. You don’t think we are going to have a race for the resource? I would like to think that if we do or when we do, that there will structure, there will be agreements, there will be protocols, there will not be the confrontation in this region.

As I mentioned at the outset, we have huge opportunities in the north, but with those opportunities come great challenges. But we as a nation need to take that challenge and be proactive now and figure out how we are going to be collaborating, yes competing, but working with the other arctic nations so that as we develop these vast resources, as we ensure that the human resource is protected so that the subsistence lifestyle can continue, as we provide for protocols with shipping and with fishing and with minerals; that we are a player at that arctic table. So we’ve got great responsibility. I think that most of us welcome that, but it does mean that we have a lot of work to do. Because we are behind when it comes to what is going on with our other arctic neighbors.

I’m hopeful that with the release of the arctic policy coming out of the administration, there will be heightened interest in what is going on in the arctic. I would ask those of you who have shown your interest by being here this morning, help us keep the momentum, help us shine this spotlight on what we can do and how we can do it up in the arctic. I’m delighted to be able to welcome you this morning and I’m sure the morning will hold great promise and learning opportunities for all of you, so thank you chance to be with you for a few moments.