WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a field hearing in Alaska on “Preparing for Offshore Drilling in the Arctic: Lessons Learned from the First Season.” This hearing will examine the operational lessons to be learned following the first season of exploratory drilling activity in the Arctic.
Senator Mark BegichChairmanU.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
Good morning everyone. Welcome.
This is a hearing of the United States Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, the third hearing I’ve chaired in Alaska in as many years.
My colleagues think I’m trying to move the entire Committee to Alaska full time, but that hasn’t happened – yet.
As Chair of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries & Coast Guard Subcommittee, I know it’s important to be here at home.
That’s because Alaska leads the nation in ocean issues in many respects.
Alaska’s coastline is longer than the rest of the nation and we have more waters in the Exclusive Economic Zone and twice as much continental shelf than the other 49 states combined.
And when the Senate ratifies the Law of the Sea treaty, Alaska’s extended continental shelf could grow in area by twice the size of California.
Our state is second to none in the economic value and landings of commercial fisheries, and the seafood industry continues to be the largest private employer in the state.
Perched along the great circle route between the West Coast and Asia, Alaska plays a major role leader in maritime shipping across the Pacific. With the melting polar ice cap, the Bering Strait is growing in importance as a link between Europe and Asia.
The value of our oil and gas reserves, and particularly our yet untapped reserves, is really a game-changer for the nation.
The waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas hold what many estimate to the largest yet to be recovered reserves of oil and natural gas in the world.
As Alaskans well know, we are highly dependent on our state’s oil and gas industry. Last year, oil and natural gas accounted for 91 percent of our state’s revenue.
Yet these reserves have extraordinary promise not only for Alaska, but for the nation as a whole, a stable source of domestic produced energy.
For these reasons, President Obama supported my push to start utilizing Alaska resources to support America's energy needs and pursued an “all of the above” approach to developing our nation’s energy supplies.
We in Alaska know well the challenges and risks that accompany offshore development. As we look to the future, we need to proceed carefully, safely, and make sure communities are fully prepared and engaged.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to take a look back on the first season of exploratory activity, and review the operational lessons learned.
Of course, not everything went according to plan this season. But Alaskans are familiar with the difficulties of operating on the frontier where the weather is harsh and infrastructure is lacking.
More importantly, we understand the importance of proceeding with caution to ensure protection of the broader Arctic ecosystem and especially the resources upon which subsistence users of the North Slope depend.
I welcome the testimony of Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Hayes, who has led the federal interagency effort on offshore oil up here in Alaska, and also the testimony of Shell Oil’s Pete Slaiby on the second panel today.
With increased energy development and maritime activity, our nation must ensure that the Coast Guard has the capabilities to operate in the Arctic waters and to ensure safe commerce.
I welcome Rear Admiral Tom Ostebo of the United States Coast Guard, and hearing your update today.
All of these activities will rely on the weather and ice forecasts and scientific underpinnings shared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For the past two years, I’ve led Senate efforts to get NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellites back on track. I look forward to hearing Acting Director Laura Furgione’s testimony.
But I am particularly looking forward to hearing updates from Jacob Adams on behalf of the North Slope Borough and Edith Vorderstrasse on behalf of UIC.
I want to hear how things went this season from your perspective.
- What benefits and challenges will new development bring for you?
- What are the opportunities and what federal investments are needed, in your estimate?
To prepare for these changes, I have proposed several pieces of legislation. It would:
- Provide a steady funding stream for needed scientific research in the Arctic,
- Strengthen our icebreaker fleet and address other infrastructure needs,
- Examine the unique health needs of residents of the Arctic, and
- Even strengthen our diplomatic role through appointment of an Arctic Ambassador.
This review of the first season will help me make the case back in Washington, D.C. for the legislation needed to move forward in the Arctic.
I thank all of our witnesses for being here today, and I thank the audience for your attendance as well.
Mr. Hayes, please go ahead.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable David J. HayesDeputy SecretaryU.S. Department of the Interior
Ms. Laura K. FurgioneActing Director, National Weather ServiceNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Rear Admiral Thomas P. OsteboCommander, Seventeenth DistrictU.S. Coast Guard
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Pete E. SlaibyVice President, Exploration and ProductionShell Alaska
Mr. Jacob AdamsChief Administrative OfficerNorth Slope Borough, Alaska
Ms. Edith VorderstrasseConsulting Division ManagerUkpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation