The Arctic received some hopeful news from the U.S. Senate this week. Thanks in part to efforts from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation will include important Arctic infrastructure projects. The bill passed in the Senate and will head to House for their approval. The passing of WRDA would be a tremendous gain for the people of Northern Alaska, due to the possibility it brings for an Arctic port in Nome.
Among other infrastructure projects, WRDA would fund the feasibility study needed for construction on a port to be developed. The original study was put on hold last year due to a shortage of funds and the economic loss that occurred when Shell withdrew from its offshore exploration program in the Chukchi.
Infrastructure in the far north is lacking (a fact that AEC has highlighted numerous times), so the addition a deep water port would be welcomed by those living in an around the region. Unfortunately, infrastructure progress has slowed recently as fewer companies choose to invest in the region as a result of uncertainty about future leasing options and unnecessary regulatory burdens.
The possibility of a deep water port is timely as vessel traffic in the Arctic increases. A port could serve many industries, and it would also make Nome a more ideal place for new business and investments. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and also been vocal about how the port could address the future needs of Alaska:
“It’s almost as if a new ocean has been discovered at the top of the globe, and so how are we preparing for that? You can’t really be in the game. You can’t be that Arctic participant, unless we have that system of ports.”
Industry operations in the Arctic have the ability to bring ports and other infrastructure online much faster than the federal government. This is due to the large regional investments companies make when they enter a new area that is lacking the resources necessary for their operations. But, as we mentioned above, many exploration projects are currently on hold. However, these companies aren’t the only ones that would benefit from new infrastructure and the construction of a deep draft port. Nome port director Joy Baker highlighted the diversity of users the port could see after the port study was put on hold last year:
“The city is fully intending to pursue project authorization based on broader justifications of national security, life and safety, protection of the environment. We believe there’s a broader purpose for the facility than just the economic benefit of the oil and gas industry.”
The progress WRDA has made in Congress this week is welcome news for the Arctic communities of Alaska. Hopefully, the House will follow the Senate’s lead and pass this vital piece of legislation that is badly needed.