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Alaska editorial: Arctic future

Posted: February 14, 2012 - 12:00am

This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Alaska’s future is in the Arctic.

The Legislature in January released the recommendations of the Alaska Northern Waters Task Force. Formed by the Legislature, the task force took two years to create its recommendations. The task force was thorough.

The Arctic is the next opportunity for development, with minerals, oil and gas, fisheries and natural beauty. Shipping routes will be established there. Industries, such as mining, oil, fishing and tourism, will be expanding into the Arctic.

The task force recommends that the state and federal governments provide Alaskans with opportunities to participate in establishing Arctic policy and in deciding approaches to Outer Continental Shelf development. By including Alaskans — especially the communities most affected by Arctic policies — it will build consensus, advance policies and stimulate economic development most beneficial to the state and the nation.

The task force suggests that the state set up a commission to develop Alaska’s strategy for the Arctic. The commission would allow Alaska to respond most effectively as Arctic development evolves and grows in complexity.

The task force also endorses the state’s efforts to urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. UNCLOS, which has been ratified by more than 160 nations, enables the United States to legitimize its claims to natural resources on the Continental Shelf beyond the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

Thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas reserves are in the Arctic, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

As the Arctic warms, not only will exploration for oil and gas become more feasible, but it creates the possibility for a shorter transportation route between the Atlantic and Asian waters. This has implications for Alaska, the nation and its Coast Guard in regard to navigation and other international transportation issues.

The warming also will affect the fishing industry, which will require new management information. Research, international agreements and strategies to benefit Alaska’s Arctic communities in capitalizing on the fish resource all will be necessary.

With Arctic development, the United States Coast Guard will need to be equipped with additional icebreakers and ice-capable vessels. New ports and harbors will necessary and new maps of the Arctic will be needed from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

The Arctic is the frontier of Alaska. It promises new opportunity for development to benefit Alaskans and Alaska, including Ketchikan and the surrounding area with its shipyard and other marine facilities. Ketchikan should be involved, and the shipyard has been, in looking at Arctic possibilities. That’s where the future is.

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