This week, the Center for Energy Studies at the Baker Institute of Rice University hosted a series of speakers who spoke on the topic of “The Arctic: A New Energy Frontier.” The Houston event was extremely well-attended and attendees were treated to candid, thoughtful discussions about Arctic energy development in America and around the world. All five speakers brought different experiences and expertise to the discussion, yet all agreed that safe responsible Arctic development is possible.
The Norwegian Consulate General co-sponsored the event, allowing insight on Norway’s approach to Arctic energy. Three of the event’s five speakers were Norwegian and were able to speak authoritatively on the nation’s Arctic resource development. The U.S. and Norway have a unique relationship in the Arctic thanks to the open exchange of research between the two countries. According to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo:
“The United States and Norway, as two of the eight Arctic nations, work closely together to protect and promote a more sustainable Arctic.”
The U.S. can learn much from Norway’s Arctic energy development and progress in the region. Each of the Norwegian speakers emphasized the research efforts of both nations that are being conducted to ensure efficient, sustainable, and safe energy development. Norwegian General Consul Morten Paulsen introduced the event and emphasized a need to show the world that both the U.S. and Norway take Arctic development seriously.
Keynote speaker Fran Ulmer from the U.S. Arctic Research Commission opened by highlighting the recent emergence of the American Arctic on to the radars of both in the mainstream media and the consciousness of the American people. Until recently, most citizens of the lower 48 did not think of the U.S. as an Arctic nation in the way that other nations (such as Norway) are considered to be, despite the fact that American Arctic drilling has been occurring for decades. Ulmer acknowledged that the U.S. is behind when it comes to Arctic development and infrastructure, because our nation has not focused on the region in the same way that other nations have. She also spent time addressing the needs of Alaska’s indigenous people and concluded by emphasizing that the political leaders of Alaska have great interest in keeping the oil industry alive in the Arctic and around the state.
Ulmer’s remarks were followed by a three-person panel moderated by Dr. Jim Krane (Center for Energy Studies.) The panel discussed “The Arctic Potential: Challenges and Opportunities in a Long-term Play.” Senior Arctic Consultant for ExxonMobil Jed Hamilton kicked off the panel by emphasizing that American Arctic energy development is not a new occurrence. Hamilton was a prime research contributor and advisor to the National Petroleum Council’s Arctic report released earlier this year.
Hamilton was joined on the panel by Paal Johansen (VP and Regional Manager Maritime Americas at DNV GL) and Øyvind Tuntland (Director for Professional Competence and Principal Engineer at the Petroleum Safety Authority – Norway). Both Norwegians emphasized the progress being made in the region from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to energy development. Johansen and Tuntland brought a business perspective and engineering perspective to the conversation, respectively, yet both agreed that the Arctic can be harnessed for energy if it is done in a responsible way.
The Arctic conversation at the Baker Institute was refreshing after the federal regulations of late, and the discussion provided hope for a prosperous future in the American Arctic. The experts who spoke and participated in the panels each gave their perspective on the challenges of the region and where energy development is headed. Yet, despite their wide range of expertise and backgrounds, all five of the participants agree that efficient, responsible, and safe development of Arctic can happen and needs to be planned for in the near future.