Program for Session 1 on Arctic Maritime Operations & Societal Needs”
“Future Development Strategy for the Northern Sea Route”
Presented by Bjørn Gunnarsson
The natural resource exploitation industries in the Arctic are faced with very challenging operational conditions including: a short drilling season, remoteness, extreme cold temperatures most of the year, storms, icing, darkness in winter, changing sea-ice conditions, heavy fog, offshore operations in deep waters, and increased coastal erosion and permafrost thawing in the summer impacting land-based infrastructure (such as roads and buildings) by destabilizing foundations.
Such destabilization of foundations could alone increase the cost of maintaining needed onshore infrastructure by tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in the decades to come for many of the Arctic countries – Russia, Canada and the United States (Alaska).
In addition to operational challenges in the Arctic, significant logistical, technological and infrastructural problems remain to be resolved both to improve accessibility to natural resources and make extraction and transport of hydrocarbons and minerals a safer operation. Extraction of hydrocarbons in offshore areas of the Arctic Ocean with seasonal sea-ice coverage will require ice-class drill ships, icebreakers and new technology for wells and ice management that increase costs to the point where such areas are currently not viable for development. New technologies and proper infrastructure for safety, logistics and export could change this situation. Balancing commercial activity in the region with environmental protection will remain a significant challenge during the years to come.
Similarly, several deficiencies in the current Arctic marine transport infrastructure have been identified that need to be overcome if the Arctic Ocean is to become widely used in the future as a transportation corridor and trade route between markets in Europe or North America and the Far East.
These include improvements to all the main components of a proper Arctic marine transportation system, including: a) physical infrastructure such as adequate ports and terminals with deep-draft access; cargo handling and passenger/crew facilities; and refuge provided for ships, b) information infrastructure such as navigational charts with updated hydrographic and shoreline mapping data; aids to navigation and real-time navigation information; marine weather and sea ice forecasts; proper communication systems; and vessel traffic monitoring and reporting systems, c) response services such as services of icebreakers for icebreaking and for vessel escort; search and rescue and emergency response; oil spill prevention, preparedness and response; and available response technologies to clean up oil and other hazardous wastes spilled at sea, and d) Arctic vessels, namely a fleet of ice-strengthened cargo ships and specialized vessels operating in the harsh Arctic environment, possibly on a year-round basis.
Hydrocarbon and mining industries and support facilities need to operate on a year-round basis in the Arctic, onshore and offshore. The main shipping activity and transit traffic in Arctic waters now takes place during the summer and early fall (July to November). However, we should also consider the possibility in the near future of year-round shipping in Arctic waters.
The task at hand is to develop infrastructure capable of meeting the safety, security and environmental protection needs of present and future Arctic stakeholders and activities. Our logistics solutions should take advantage of the Arctic resource potential and Arctic shipping opportunities, but at the same time provide the needed safety and reliability of operations and adequate pollution prevention to safeguard the fragile Arctic environment.