New USCG Cutter Will Be In The Arctic This Summer

The U.S. Coast Guard will send its newest national security cutter – the 420 foot Bertholf –to the Arctic for this summer’s open water season.  That’s in addition to a buoy tender and 2 helicopters. The Guard is preparing for more traffic and anticipated offshore oil drilling through their Arctic Shield effort.    If Shell moves ahead with exploratory drilling this summer, the company expects to have 22 vessels in the region and six aircraft. They plan to fly more than 300 trips from land to the drilling rigs to ferry 400 employees around.

Rear Admiral Thomas P Ostebo, the commander of District 17 was in Nome yesterday to speak with native corporation and city leaders.

The guard is adding a temporary air base and communication station in Barrow.  They also plan to do their first ever oil spill response drill in Arctic waters. No oil will actually be spilled, but they will test their ability to deploy and operate skimming equipment.

Traffic through the Bering Strait is again expected to break records with upwards of 1000 vessels transiting the strait.  Ostebo says in preparing for Shell’s drilling program, people should step back and take a holistic view of growth in the Arctic.

Ostebo points to massive Russian tankers carrying Norwegian gas condensate that made it through the strait this past summer.

Ostebo says the country should be looking at ways to organize vessel traffic lanes and improve communication among those navigating through the area.

Ostebo was asked about anti-whaling protesters and the guard’s ability to respond if subsistence hunters are harassed.  Ostebeo says the Guard’s jurisdiction is limited beyond 12 miles offshore.  He will be sending Nome residents a legal analysis of what the guard can do in different areas.

Shell is planning on using Dutch Harbor as its logistics hub for the drilling season.  Nome’s port will see some action: the cutter Alex Haley is expected to make port calls in Nome a of couple times, along with the buoy tender.

Shell still must secure individual well permits order to go ahead with this summer’s program. If Shell is successful, Conoco Phillips and Statoil hope to drill in the next two summers.

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