Could the U.S. Lose its Arctic Energy War to Rivals?

The Arctic holds nearly one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources, with U.S. waters in the region home to an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Experts say that’s enough to create millions of jobs, billions in revenue, and heat every home in America for more than 30 years.

That’s very promising news for the United States as the demand for oil is expected to rise in the coming decades.

What’s not promising is that several of our greatest economic rivals like Russia and China are already in position to intercept these much-needed resources by exploiting new shipping lanes that have opened up – and will continue to open up – because of melting sea ice.

And we, to date, are not.

That needs to change – and in a hurry, according to a recent report by the National Petroleum Council (NPC). In adopting the report co-authored by a diverse group of government regulators, non-governmental organizations, environmentalists, industry leaders, and Alaska Native representatives, the long-standing advisory committee to the Energy Department strongly urges the federal government to facilitate exploration in the offshore Alaskan Arctic now, for the sake of our long-term energy security.

Failure to act immediately would risk a renewed reliance on imported oil and jeopardize America’s global competitiveness and leadership, and influence in the Arctic, the NPC says.

As such, it would be wise for the Obama Administration -- which recently closed off access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and millions of offshore acres in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) – to adhere to the NPC’s advice, reverse course, and promote regulations that strengthen, not weaken, Arctic energy development.

Such a course would not only stabilize fuel and energy costs for consumers, but it would also provide an important check and counterbalance  to the activities and ambitions of faraway rivals in what has quickly become a geopolitical hotbed.

For example, the report notes that Russia is drilling new exploration wells and expanding its naval and transportation fleet, with the country set to “continue to be a dominant player” in Arctic energy development. In addition, despite its lack of Arctic territory, NPC also observes that China is making significant investments in Arctic research, infrastructure, and natural resource development.

China should certainly not be taken lightly. That goes double – maybe triple – for Russia.

In recent years, the Russians have added a 6,000-soldier permanent military force in the Arctic’s northwest Murmansk region, new radar and guidance system capabilities, new nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers to patrol the Arctic waters nearest to America. Russia has also upped its military spending by 33 percent even though it’s in the middle of an economic downturn. All of these moves underscore that Russia is clearly seeking to be a dominant, if not the dominant, player in the Arctic.

But the administration has the power to thwart Russia’s advance in this increasingly important, next-door part of the world. Our president knows that oil finances more than half of Russia’s budget. He knows that the Russians urgently need to find and sell more oil in order to get out of its recession. And he knows that a critical opportunity to help neutralize Russia’s military power in the Arctic and win this unprecedented game of tug-of-war over the resources in the region lies ahead with America’s new chairmanship of the international Arctic Council.

There is hope, as evidenced by the administration’s recent decision to affirm a 2008 lease sale under which Shell is seeking to explore in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea this summer. However, additional approvals are still needed, and 87 percent of America’s offshore territory remains off limits to development.

The U.S. has the technology to win this Arctic energy war. Now, it is time for the administration to show the kind of leadership that is necessary for that happen.

The Arctic holds nearly one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources, with U.S. waters in the region home to an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Experts say that’s enough to create millions of jobs, billions in revenue, and heat every home in America for more than 30 years.

That’s very promising news for the United States as the demand for oil is expected to rise in the coming decades.

What’s not promising is that several of our greatest economic rivals like Russia and China are already in position to intercept these much-needed resources by exploiting new shipping lanes that have opened up – and will continue to open up – because of melting sea ice.

And we, to date, are not.

That needs to change – and in a hurry, according to a recent report by the National Petroleum Council (NPC). In adopting the report co-authored by a diverse group of government regulators, non-governmental organizations, environmentalists, industry leaders, and Alaska Native representatives, the long-standing advisory committee to the Energy Department strongly urges the federal government to facilitate exploration in the offshore Alaskan Arctic now, for the sake of our long-term energy security.

Failure to act immediately would risk a renewed reliance on imported oil and jeopardize America’s global competitiveness and leadership, and influence in the Arctic, the NPC says.

As such, it would be wise for the Obama Administration -- which recently closed off access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and millions of offshore acres in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) – to adhere to the NPC’s advice, reverse course, and promote regulations that strengthen, not weaken, Arctic energy development.

Such a course would not only stabilize fuel and energy costs for consumers, but it would also provide an important check and counterbalance  to the activities and ambitions of faraway rivals in what has quickly become a geopolitical hotbed.

For example, the report notes that Russia is drilling new exploration wells and expanding its naval and transportation fleet, with the country set to “continue to be a dominant player” in Arctic energy development. In addition, despite its lack of Arctic territory, NPC also observes that China is making significant investments in Arctic research, infrastructure, and natural resource development.

China should certainly not be taken lightly. That goes double – maybe triple – for Russia.

In recent years, the Russians have added a 6,000-soldier permanent military force in the Arctic’s northwest Murmansk region, new radar and guidance system capabilities, new nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers to patrol the Arctic waters nearest to America. Russia has also upped its military spending by 33 percent even though it’s in the middle of an economic downturn. All of these moves underscore that Russia is clearly seeking to be a dominant, if not the dominant, player in the Arctic.

But the administration has the power to thwart Russia’s advance in this increasingly important, next-door part of the world. Our president knows that oil finances more than half of Russia’s budget. He knows that the Russians urgently need to find and sell more oil in order to get out of its recession. And he knows that a critical opportunity to help neutralize Russia’s military power in the Arctic and win this unprecedented game of tug-of-war over the resources in the region lies ahead with America’s new chairmanship of the international Arctic Council.

There is hope, as evidenced by the administration’s recent decision to affirm a 2008 lease sale under which Shell is seeking to explore in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea this summer. However, additional approvals are still needed, and 87 percent of America’s offshore territory remains off limits to development.

The U.S. has the technology to win this Arctic energy war. Now, it is time for the administration to show the kind of leadership that is necessary for that happen.