A new report by the National Research Council has some troubling conclusions for American policymakers: We are woefully unprepared for what may be the world’s last oil and gas rushes, up north in the Arctic circle. The study was commissioned in part by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is seeking guidance as it crafts new rules for Arctic drilling. The report’s authors are unambiguous in their assessment: we’re not ready for this. The Hill reports:
The report, released on Wednesday, found that safety resources and oil response tools are not adequate. The absence of personnel, equipment, communication and overall infrastructure create a “significant liability” in the event of a large oil spill.The U.S. Coast Guard should bulk up its presence and performance in the Arctic, the report states. It added that the Coast Guard should also expand its bilateral agreement with Russia to include Arctic spill scenarios.
This matters. The USGS estimates that the Arctic contains 15 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, and nearly a third of its undiscovered gas. As Arctic ice melts, enterprising firms will have increasing access to these reserves. But the harsh conditions of polar drilling require a massive amount of infrastructure, both to tap and transport the hydrocarbons, and to ensure that we don’t recklessly pollute the region with oil spills and the like. This report confirms what common sense dictates: Oil spills, which can be devilishly difficult to contain even in temperate waters, pose an even more significant threat in the frigid, remote Arctic waters.The US is lagging behind this rush to exploit these new resources. Russia has 25 icebreakers, while America has only two (just one of which actually works). This isn’t just a commercial opportunity, it’s also a strategic priority, and we’re playing catch-up.