In the last year, we’ve seen the continued need for increased Arctic infrastructure around the world. Whether it be for shipping or safety, the Arctic community needs considerable infrastructure investment to more fully interconnected with the global economy. Energy development is one major way investment can seamlessly flow into the region.
Recently, the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN) reported that Alaska’s Arctic region is still seeing major benefits from the materials and technological innovations Shell brought to the area during last year’s drilling project in the Chukchi Sea. In order to conduct its exploration program at the Burger prospect, Shell had to obtain all of the necessary support vessels before drilling could commence. This required contracting vessels of all sort, from safety to transport, in order to put in place the necessary safety and response capability and equipment for the season’s operations. This infrastructure equates to jobs and better standards of living in Native communities, who otherwise, may not have these resources available. These infrastructure improvements brought on by energy development benefit local communities long after the projects end.
The National Petroleum Council addressed infrastructure in its 2015 report on Arctic resource potential. The report highlights how infrastructure investments from oil and gas activities can be beneficial in a variety of ways:
“Infrastructure upgrades for exploration can increase operational efficiencies and at the same time reduce environmental impacts and provide positive social benefits, which together enable prudent development.”
The report goes on to emphasize that these energy infrastructure investments lead to improved communities, which in turn, permit communities to contribute to the projects taking place in their region. The NPC highly recommends that Arctic energy producers involve community members in their infrastructure decisions by stating:
“Early engagement with the Native population in infrastructure and activity planning is key to maximizing the total societal benefit of investment.”
One example of Native Alaskans benefiting from energy industry investment is happening right now in Western Alaska and Prince William Sound. Currently, multiple Alaska organizations are working together to set up oil spill response equipment that Shell contracted for its 2015 Arctic project. Response equipment such as skimmers and booms are now available to local communities. ADN described why this equipment is vital to communities:
“The extra support will be especially helpful in some of Alaska’s remote regions, because ships that navigate through those waters may not meet federal oil spill compliance standards due to the lack of infrastructure, harsh conditions, and the time it takes for responders to arrive in those areas. Ships in these areas instead operate under an alternate plan to reduce the risk of oil spills in hard-to-react waters.”
Had Shell not acquired these materials, it’s unlikely that remote communities would have access to such materials. When Shell began preparations for the Burger prospect, the people of Barrow, Alaska saw improvements in many areas of the community – from upgraded roads to better communication facilities. These advancements arrived quickly and are a boon to the local economies, all due to the oil and gas Arctic development.
Even though Shell decided to pause its project in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, the people of Barrow and across the North Slope are seeing the benefits brought forth from years of exploration planning and development. Americans need to understand what local Alaskans have already recognized: even when Arctic energy ventures have ended, these projects continue to bolster the infrastructure of Native communities and improve their way of life.