ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — More than 250 vessels operated last year in the Arctic Ocean and made 480 transits through the Bering Strait, and the increasing traffic poses more of a threat than Arctic offshore drilling, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said Wednesday.
News reports focused on drilling problems experienced by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, including the grounding of one of its two Alaska drill ships, but the unregulated ship traffic is a bigger concern, said Begich, D-Alaska.
"In the challenging Arctic maritime environment, where there are no harbors of refuge and few aids to navigation or search and rescue assets, mariners also have less accurate weather forecasts and charts where there are dozens of miles between accurate depth readings," Begich said at a hearing of panel he chairs, the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.
The Kulluk, which Shell used to drill in the Beaufort Sea, ran aground Dec. 31 in the Gulf of Alaska as it was being towed to a shipyard in Washington state. The vessel left Wednesday morning from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands for Singapore, where it will be repaired for the 2014 drilling season.
Like Shell officials, Begich calls it a shipping accident, not a drilling accident.
Alaskans, Begich said, have not lost confidence in the ability of Shell to drill safely, even after the statement two weeks ago by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that Shell "screwed up" as he released a report on the company's 2012 Alaska offshore petroleum exploration program.
"When you look at what they (Shell) did in the Arctic region, in the sense of the exploration and the development there, and you look at the Interior report, they did not say that about the Arctic," Begich said.