ôSafe, secure and reliable at sea"

Arctic Frontiers Conference

Arctic Frontiers Conference: Geopolitics and Marine Production in a Changing Arctic

Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell remarks

January 21, 2013

Tromsø, Norway

 

“Safe, secure and reliable at sea: the geopolitics of a new ocean”

 

Ministers, ambassadors, distinguished participants, it’s a pleasure to be here with you today. I am honored by the invitation to speak, and it has been a tremendous opportunity for me to learn from all of you. In the Arctic, it has been said that at this important forum, ideas come forward that later become reality. As we in Alaska are presented with challenges we find common to many Arctic nations, today we wanted to propose some new ideas to meet those challenges.

 

Geopolitics and biological productivity: your conference theme

 

The relationship between the two themes of this conference struck me as I prepared to speak with you. We’re here to talk about global policy – geopolitics – and about Arctic production and natural productivity. Arctic production – fossils, fishes, and knowledge – is important now in a way it never has been before. Yes, our part of the world has fed and fueled our nations – and many others – for years. We’ve known for centuries that our fisheries, hydrocarbons, and other resources are plentiful and valuable. But for the first time, changes in Arctic sea ice are expanding the likelihood that energy and minerals produced in the European Arctic can serve markets in the Pacific region, and that goods produced in Alaska, Eastern Russia, and Canada can be more competitive in Atlantic Europe. An open Arctic sea ties the two great oceans together. That means, for the world, the Arctic is a strategic seaway, potentially vital to commerce. And that means – throughout the Arctic – our own lives and livelihoods can flourish, too.

As the Arctic Ocean opens up, it is clear to me that our respective efforts to understand fish biology and enhance fisheries productivity in the Barents Region – and the Bering Region – need to come more closely together. The U.S. moratorium on fishing in its Arctic exclusive economic zone is really a call to cooperation, at the very least, on science. We need sentinels to understand whether and to what extent fisheries in the central Arctic may take on the characteristics of the Barents and Bering Sea fisheries today. Likewise, the pending U.S. proposal relating to future high seas Arctic fisheries is timed so we can act now, before those fisheries happen, to establish good science to ensure productivity throughout the Arctic is maintained.

 

Safe shipping and prosperity: two proposals

 

For my part, and on behalf of Alaska, I’ve come to meet with you in Norway today because I want to advance two sets of ideas related to Arctic shipping. First, with full respect for the soon-to-be-signed Arctic Council oil spill agreement, we want to highlight the need to find agreement on contingency planning requirements for this new age of Arctic transportation. Second, as Alaska prepares for the full social and economic impacts of this new ocean, we want to invite dialogue toward a strategic, international plan on Arctic shipping that will both help us both protect our coastal communities and improve our economies. Our ports want to work with your ports as we plan to serve this new age of global shipping.

During the Canadian and U.S. chairmanships of the Arctic Council, we plan to work hard to establish a lasting legacy of safety at sea and prosperity at home. As we go to the world for support on safety, we need to engage with the world on Arctic opportunity. This is the age of Arctic shipping the great explorers dreamed of. We’ve been given a “new ocean” of possibilities – and dangers – and we need to do everything we can to prepare for both.

 

A. Contingency planning for itinerant vessels

 

So first, I’m here to voice a call Alaska has made in many forums: we need contingency planning requirements for itinerant Arctic shipping NOW. Let me explain why.

First, most new shipping in the Arctic is hydrocarbon related. We see crude oil, gas condensate, jet fuel, and LNG passing our Western Alaskan shores.

Second we have a mutual need to work on spill prevention – not just by offering mutual aid if a spill happens.

Third, we have lived through a spill in Alaska – the 1989 Exxon Valdez, one of America’s worst. If there’s one lesson from that time we don’t see applied in the Arctic to itinerant vessels today, it’s that there is virtually no interaction ahead of time between parties to a potential accident and coastal residents. We learned this interaction is essential to good prevention and response.

Fourth, in our domestic shipping and oil and gas exploration in the region, very strong steps are made to coordinate with native subsistence whalers and sealers. This is not the case for itinerant vessels. I cannot understate the importance of subsistence whaling, sealing and walrus hunting to the people of coastal Alaska.

Toward marine safety in the Arctic, we have a few good starts – we achieved a search and rescue agreement in the Council’s 2011 Ministerial, and we have a pending 2013 agreement on marine oil spill prevention and response. An EPPR effort is reviewing best practices on spill prevention, and AMATII (the Arctic Maritime and Aviation Transportation Infrastructure Initiative) is inventorying transport infrastructure, which can help us all address gaps. But we need to make progress in bringing international shipping through the Arctic up to our own high domestic standards.

Currently, United States senators are at a stalemate over ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty. But four other Arctic coastal states have ratified. Whether we have or haven’t ratified, however, the Arctic states need a consensus on what the Treaty’s Article 234 means to shipping. The language is specifically aimed at regulation of ice-covered areas, meaning the Arctic. What do “non-discriminatory laws and regulations” look like? What defines “severe climate” in a place where the climate is steadily changing? The International Chamber of Shipping pointed out that Article 234 might conflict with other freedoms of shipping laid out in Law of the Sea. Do we give precedence to Article 234 over other regimes of transit passage for straits used for international navigation? We need to find an approach to use of Article 234 that works.

Some in my state have suggested modifications to the pending mandatory IMO Polar Code would solve our problem. As consideration of IMO moves at a glacial pace, we may have time to amend the code to require contingency planning for unregulated itinerant vessels.

Domestically, the United States regulates and monitors both tank and non-tank vessels to the hilt. So do other Arctic states. But we have little say today about the environmental or human safety plans for the traffic that’s sailing through Alaska’s front yard in the Bering Strait. A third, more immediate approach arose last year. Our state legislature in 2012 urged voluntary compliance with oil spill laws. Our state agencies – and the U.S. Coast Guard – are willing to review contingency plans voluntarily submitted by itinerant shippers. But no plans have come.

A fourth approach to regulation could come by an agreement among Arctic coastal states to apply their port regulations on a reciprocal basis. Any ship headed to or from a U.S. port is required to have contingency planning. International law allows states to reach far into the ocean for ships coming to and fro, just not ships passing by.

And a fifth approach could come by IMO agreement to what must ultimately be a U.S.-Russia proposal to establish a vessel traffic system in the Bering Strait. The U.S. Coast Guard is working this issue now.

At the very least, we need to make coastal nations aware of vessels in innocent passage within their territorial waters, as well as the vessels’ cargo and their response capability. We have built up our Automatic Identification System network. Mechanisms for informing those vessels of local response organizations, places of refuge, vessels of opportunity, special areas, marine salvers, and other assets could be a small step forward in planning and readiness for a marine causality.

Our call for contingency planning is not just about oil spill response – it’s about healthy operations at all times. It’s about making sure those pursuing new ocean activity keep the small boats, the sealers, the whalers, the fishermen in mind. It’s about the lives of people in our coastal communities. Whatever we choose to do, we need to make progress now on this fundamental piece of preparation for the new age of global shipping.

 

B. Greater prosperity from Arctic Shipping

 

That brings me to my second proposal, to have Arctic nations engage much more deeply on a strategic plan to realize the economic benefits of Arctic shipping. As Arctic nations, we are further ahead on safety discussions than we are on any discussion of cooperation in promoting use of these seaways. But it will come. I look at the model of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which brings Canada and the U.S. together to provide both safety of navigation and global promotion of the use of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. It has worked for almost a century.

The U.S. government is currently working on a strategic shipping plan under the Committee on the Marine Transportation System. This year, the State of Alaska will begin a study in partnership with our University and our state’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, under the leadership of former Coast Guard Captain, and U.S. author of the Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, Dr. Lawson Brigham. We seek to address four major questions on Arctic shipping for Alaska. They are:

1. How do we ensure shipping is safe, secure, and reliable?

2. Can shipping reduce costs, especially energy costs, for Arctic residents?

3. Can Arctic shipping make Alaska’s other resource exports more competitive?

4. What jobs and economic development can global Arctic shipping provide Alaskans, especially from providing transportation services?

As we begin this, we are looking to invite other nations’ ports to work with our own ports to understand common economic opportunities. Our inquiry will inform the work of the Arctic Council’s AMATII, a multinational steering committee of government, academic and private sector entities. AMATII is connecting stakeholders and amassing the data necessary to inform Arctic nations’ understanding of capacity, gaps, and response capability.

Our questions tell you that, in Alaska, we see the possibility of three major opportunities for the Arctic growing from a safe, secure and reliable shipping regime. We are readying ourselves to take advantage of opportunities for cheaper energy, increasing the value of our exports, and creating jobs. As more and more vessels – carrying everything from gas condensate to jet fuel – pass our front door, we’re looking at ways to decrease the cost of energy for residents in remote areas. As we work on infrastructure and resource development, we are thinking about how we can work with increasing vessel traffic, capitalize on backhauls, and bring our own goods to markets in Asia, Canada, Russia and Europe. By cooperative efforts, we could increase the competitive value of each nation’s unique assets. The Arctic truly could feed and fuel the world.

I urge us again and again to remember that the people shipping and the coastal residents need to know each other. We need to prioritize the health and wealth of our communities if this is to be a golden age for us.

 

Conclusion

 

As the North American chairmanships of the Arctic Council begin, we appreciate the opportunity we have to establish a greater legacy of safety at sea. Canada has chosen “Development for the People of the North” as her theme for the 2013-2015 chairmanship, and is seeking safe and responsible shipping, resource development, and sustainable communities. The way I see it, those topics are intimately related. These are not only goals which will affect the circumpolar north, but they will affect global commerce, shipping, and energy. The U.S. chairmanship of the Council begins in two years, and Governor Sean Parnell has suggested that U.S. leadership, too, involve a focus on safe, secure and reliable shipping. It’s invigorating to think what we could achieve in four years towards establishing a lasting regime of Arctic shipping. It could serve as an example world-wide of what international cooperation can look like when we prioritize the health and safety of our people and our environment.

Right now, it seems to many observers that the Russian Federation is taking the lead defining what the new age of Arctic shipping might look like. Russia is keenly aware of the value of Arctic shipping to the value of their resources. The nation is making a major investment in icebreakers. Rates for icebreaker escort on the Northern Sea Route are intended to be more competitive. An Arctic Council shipping and economic strategy would involve more players, including observers who eye this new ocean. We would do best to put a common face to the world.

Back home in Alaska, we’re doing everything we can to streamline permitting and improve our tax structure to encourage new mining, oil and gas production. Our prospects in the outer continental shelf are strong. Like the other Arctic nations searching offshore, we’re cautious and hopeful. Communication with our northern neighbors is aiding the growing awareness in Washington of Alaska’s international value. Arctic dialogue helps as we fight for legal access to our Arctic resources. Alaska is doing everything we can to be a good partner in this eight-nation venture, because together we can ensure this coming Age of the Arctic is one of safety, security, and tremendous prosperity for all.

Thank you very much.