The last two weeks in the American Arctic have been eventful. The Trump Administration moved to expand Arctic fossil fuel production, the navy conducted successful naval drills in the region, and a fire aboard the Icebreaker USCGC Healy ended present Coast Guard Arctic activity.
Drilling in the ANWR
Plans to open drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) have been stalled by twin lawsuits. The Gwich’in Steering Committee and National Audubon Society are accusing the Department of the Interior of violating federal environmental and administrative law. The plaintiffs believe insufficient care was given to environmental impact reviews, and that drilling may threaten native wildlife.
President Trump, Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt, and Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy believe the project would be an economic boon, creating jobs, introducing more capital to an underdeveloped region, and increasing energy self-sufficiency. Secretary Bernhardt expressed confidence about the Interior Department’s legal due diligence, saying he was “very comfortable with the lines that we drew in this case”.
American Military Activity in the Arctic Region
The United States military deployed the USS Seawolf fast-attack submarine to Norway this week, in a rare display of the submersible. Bombers were also flown to the United Kingdom. The display of American undersea power is particularly noteworthy, given its rarity and Russian remilitarization of the High North. Though the Navy’s recent Arctic activity was successful, the Coast Guard endured a crippling blow.
USCG Healy Damaged By Fire
A fire damaged propulsion motors in the Icebreaker USCGC Healy, resulting in the Coast Guard’s cancellation of all current Arctic activity. With Healy docked in Seattle for repairs, the United States has only one functional icebreaker remaining. This places America at a significant disadvantage when compared to Arctic competitors China and Russia, which operate two and 40 icebreakers respectively. The United States’ remaining icebreaker, the Polar Star, caught fire last year as well.
Though funding to increase America’s icebreaker fleet size is incoming, construction will go on until the mid 2020s. In an increasingly contentious Arctic region and world, self-sufficiency and power projection are essential to safeguard America’s interests. The modernization of the United States’ Arctic capabilities must occur sooner rather than later.