US Senator from Alaska outlines priorities for Arctic drilling

US Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alas.) has outlined a list of “Arctic priorities” for President Barack Obama, including additional streamlining of Arctic oil and gas permit applications. Begich is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard.

In a letter to Obama regarding budget issues, Begich said he was pleased the administration has worked with him in the past regarding oil and gas permitting issues.

“I ask that we protect the gains made and pave the way for further improvements,” Begich said. Specifically, he asked Obama to ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers receive the funding needed to fulfill their permitting responsibilities.

Previously, Begich advocated NOAA work with the Interagency Working Group for Alaska, a consortium of federal agencies. Obama organized that working group to address permitting issues.

Separately, Begich commended NOAA for its intention to publish a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for oil and gas activities in the Arctic (OGJ Online, Jan. 28, 2013).

The supplement comes more than 1 year after NOAA’s original draft EIS for its operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which prompted criticism from Alaska’s congressional delegation. Alaska’s delegation called the original draft too narrow in scope.

The original draft EIS considered a maximum of two exploratory operations per planning area in the Arctic Ocean. The Chukchi and Beaufort seas are each considered a separate planning area. Publication of the Supplemental EIS is expected within weeks, and it will be followed by a public comment period.

“The entire process may wrap up by the end of the year, which means it would apply to drilling operations in 2014 and beyond,” Begich said.

ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and Statoil hold active leases in the Chukchi. Begich was chairman of a field hearing in Anchorage in October 2012 to discuss the offshore development season. He plans to hold a similar review in March.

Begich has worked for years with DOE and the US Coast Guard regarding Alaska-related oil and gas development (OGJ Online, July 30, 2010).

Icebreaker investments needed

Begich said the federal government needs to make investments in icebreakers for the US Coast Guard. USCG currently has one operational icebreaker, the medium-duty Healy. A heavy-duty icebreaker, the Polar Star, was refurbished in Seattle and expected to return to duty this year.

Begich also said USCG needs “a credible forward operating base in the Arctic to support marine and aviation operations as well as sufficient Arctic-capable aircraft and currents to ensure it can execute all of its important missions in the region.”

In addition, he called upon Obama to ensure NOAA and DOI have sufficient budgets to expand their Arctic-related activity.

“NOAA has many capabilities to support Arctic development, including gathering hydrographic and meteorological data and mapping sensitive habitats but lacks the operational funding to fully survey the region,” Begich said. “DOE has broad-reaching interests in Arctic science as well.”

Contact Paula Dittrick at


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