Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) Presents the Road to Iqaluit: The Arctic Agenda on the Eve of the U.S. Chairmanship

CSIS hosts a public conversation every two years in the weeks before a new Arctic Council ministerial meeting in order to discuss the issues that will confront the new chair.

This event was moderated by Heather Conley, Senior VP for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic and Director of the Europe Program at CSIS.

Sen. Murkowski’s (R-AK) speech focused on how the Arctic Council chairmanship will create more opportunities to increase domestic awareness that the U.S. is an Arctic nation.

“The Arctic policy challenge isn’t with the council members or the rest of the international community, not with Permanent Participants who are truly impacted more than anyone else by the decisions of Arctic nations, but the biggest challenge for the U.S. is the U.S. itself,” she said.  “We face hurdles both at the public interest level, and the government policy level.”

Sen. Murkowski reiterated how the changing Arctic creates opportunities for commercial shipping, natural resource development, and national security.  And regardless of whether the U.S. engages in these opportunities, the rest of the Arctic nations—and non-Arctic nations such as China—will.  “When non-Arctic nations are embracing opportunities with diminished polar ice, it grabs our attention here at home.  We’re looking at why India has an interest in the Arctic.  If there’s an interest from non-Arctic nations, then why aren’t we looking with greater interest?”

Sen. Murkowski recommended that the Arctic Economic Council (AEC) go on a road tour around the U.S., presenting chambers of commerce with information about opportunities for Arctic investment and economic development, thereby raising the collective awareness of how the Arctic impacts U.S. business.

Sen. Murkowski criticized the Obama Administration for placing climate change policy goals “above everyone else, including those living in the Arctic.”  While climate change adaptation and environmental stewardship are warranted priorities, she said the U.S. should focus its chairmanship on resource development and improving the standard of living for people in the Arctic.  Sen. Murkowski recalled the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee’s March 5, 2015, hearing where North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower testified that oil development brought 200 years of advancement to her region over a 30-year period.

“There is no irony in people benefitting from economic opportunities in their region, but there is irony in deliberately limiting their opportunity when you say it’s in their best interest.” –Sen. Murkowski


“Those who oppose resource development prefer the Inupiat to use whale oil for heat,” she said. “But just a few decades ago, LNG didn’t heat their homes. There was a time when you collected driftwood down the river to heat your home. There are powerful stories that describe the reason to go to school in the morning was not for education, but because school was the only place for heat.

“There is no irony in people benefitting from economic opportunities in their region, but there is irony in deliberately limiting their opportunity when you say it’s in their best interest.”

The U.S. will chair the Arctic Council through the end of the Obama Administration and into the new presidential administration, when Finland takes the position in April 2017.  Sen. Murkowski stressed the current opportunity should be viewed for its long-term effects.  She challenged the administration and Americans to lead the Arctic Council in a way that will benefit everyone in the nation.

During the question and answer period, Heather Conley asked Sen. Murkowski how the U.S. could pay for infrastructure, including icebreakers, aviation assets, maritime domain awareness, and deep-water ports.  Sen. Murkowski said federal agencies—including the Departments of Defense, Interior, and Homeland Security—need to coordinate on carving out the budget for these national priorities that are otherwise viewed as single-state “earmarks” to many people outside of Alaska.

Conley said some foreign ministers have characterized Russia as the greatest threat to northern Europe, while others in the Arctic say Russia is a strong partner.  She asked what kind of signal is being sent when Russia’s foreign minister didn’t attend the April 24 ministerial meeting and Russia conducts aggressive military exercises in the region.  Sen. Murkowski said the military exercises cause concern, but are still not making front page news. She said Russia is taking advantage of the fact that U.S. wants to be its partner, but the Russian government is not behaving like a partner. “The U.S. should call them out when they need to be called out.”

Dr. Brooke Smith-Windsor asked how money made from Arctic resources development could stay in the Arctic.  Sen. Murkowski said she is developing a revenue sharing measure that would direct a portion of the revenue derived from OCS development directly to the government entities on the North Slope that would host development.  “People of the north want to ensure they are a participant in the community and have modern amenities, but they require access to a subsistence lifestyle that has sustained them for thousands of years.  How to find that balance of development with benefits and that provides for the level of resources is key,” pointing to a Shell Oil agreement to accommodate subsistence whale hunters.

Caitlyn Antrim, Executive Director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans, asked if there could be a regional partnership opportunity with Russia.  Sen. Murkowski said there are opportunities to work together on search and rescue capacity, maritime services, and collaborative research, but political tensions have increased skepticism and eroded the desire for cooperation.

“We should think about the Arctic now because it’ll take a good decade to get these resources to production.  It’s about securing our children’s energy security.” – Paula Grant, DOE Deputy Asst. Secretary

Nick Snow with the Oil and Gas Journal asked if public-private partnerships (PPP) are being considered or developed.  Sen. Murkowski said this is part of the answer: in last year’s Water Resources Development Act, she advanced a measure to allow such partnerships to help build deep-water ports and infrastructure.  “Some were anxious about what happens when an oil company wants to be part of [a PPP],” she said.  “But if we build out infrastructure projects that benefit the region, let’s talk about that, especially as we face the reality of a budget that does not allow for commitments in the Arctic region.” (Alaska Business Monthly reported on this in May 2014.)

The panel on the Future of Energy Development in the American Arctic started with Paula Grant, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy in the Office of Oil and Natural Gas.  She reviewed the request by the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, to the National Petroleum Council (NPC) to study the nature of oil and gas in the Arctic and the technology needed and available to develop those resources “in a prudent manner.”  Grant said Secretary Moniz was pleased by the results of the study, and wanted science and technology conducted in a transparent way among federal agencies, private sector, and academia.

“Why Arctic, why now with the abundance of resources in the Lower 48?” Grant asked.  “Because we should make decisions with our children in mind,” pointing to the abundance of gas and oil in the Arctic.  “We should think about the Arctic now because it’ll take a good decade to get these resources to production.  It’s about securing our children’s energy security.”

Grant later said the Quadrennial Energy Review (released on April 22) includes recommendations for energy infrastructure in Alaska and Lower 48,

“Arctic is our home, we aren’t going anywhere.  If development comes, we want to share in the benefits while working to mitigate any negative impacts.”  -Richard Glenn

including pipelines, ports, roads, and bridges, with “a great deal of priority on an LNG pipeline and the future of TAPS.”

Carol Lloyd, Engineering VP at ExxonMobil, reviewed the NPC study.  Detailed slides from this presentation are included with this edition.  The full executive summary and draft report can be found online here.  The final report is expected to be released at the end of May 2015.

Lloyd later said the biggest challenge to progress on oil development is the extreme need for more infrastructure in the region.  When Shell proceeds with its Arctic plans, the company must bring its own spill response equipment and submit response plans in order to obtain permits.  The NPC report also compares the gaps and opportunities with the current state of infrastructure.

Lloyd said the oil and gas industry, fisheries, and tourism will share the same infrastructure resources, and there will be opportunities to open up more PPPs.

Drue Pearce presented an Alaska perspective on the NPC study, saying it required Alaska’s confidence and participation.  Pearce served on the NPC study’s coordinating subcommittee with dozens of Alaskans and chapter teams.

Pearce shared a quote from Richard Glenn of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation: “Arctic is our home, we aren’t going anywhere.  If development comes, we want to share in the benefits while working to mitigate any negative impacts.”  Pearce said traditional knowledge must be harnessed in the context of Arctic policy in an effort to benefit all Alaskans.

Pearce emphasized the NPC recommendation that the U.S. should strengthen the Arctic Economic Council’s formal interaction and promote its business advisory role.  She said the AEC delegation meets monthly to talk about how to work with the Arctic Council.

Conley asked Grant about DOE’s challenges in working with other agencies.  Grant said the department has a robust dialogue with the Department of the Interior, especially in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon.  Her office is where federal and state regulators go for an “unbiased review of research and technology” to use in making policy.

Mead Treadwell said he is working with Conley on the World Economic Forum’s analysis of Arctic investment.  He asked the panel for its thoughts on the PPPs are used to respond to oil spills in ice-covered Norwegian waters.

Lloyd said the NPC recommended the Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to collaborate with investors on oil spill prevention and response.  She said DOI should field test Arctic oil spill response mechanisms.

Grant responded that DOE is looking at NPC’s recommendations about designing wells with the science of ocean currents in mind to help prevent oil wells from losing control.

Pearce said the federal government should have a better understanding and collaborative process for oil spill response and practice.  At present, permits for oil spill exercises are difficult to obtain.  Many private companies that work on oil spill technology operate around the world and could partner with the oil industry and governments.

“We don’t live in a zero-risk world.” –Drue Pearce

Treadwell urged DOE to work with the committee created under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Inuuteq Holm Olsen, Greenland Representative at the Embassy of Denmark, said Arctic residents want to develop their region while non-residents want to preserve it.  Olsen asked the panelists how they would address that dichotomy.

Pearce said public acceptance is needed in order to move forward: oil spills and other accidents around the world are mostly related to transporting hydrocarbons rather than extracting them.  The timeline for BSEE’s new regulations, however, pushes exploration to two seasons to complete instead of doing it in one, which actually creates more risk.  Splitting the exploration stage in two means more ships in the water for longer periods of time and more opportunity for accidents.  Pearce said there should be a dialogue about the real risks and opportunities, and acceptance that the risk is never going to be zero.

“We don’t live in a zero-risk world,” she said.

Henry Edgar presented the idea of shipping barrels of water to California, with its record-setting drought.  Pearce referred to an Alaska Dispatch News article (located here) about freshwater shipped from Sitka to the Lower 48, and mentioned former Gov. Walter Hickel’s idea of water pipeline licensing opportunities.  (ADN recently had a story on this in Feb 2015.)  The drinking water industry is “fledgling” right now, she said, but people may move forward with it.

John Farrell of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC) asked Grant if she could share more information about Secretary Moniz’s response to the NPC study.  Grant said the secretary is pleased with the quality of the 550-page report, which is rich with resources for people both familiar and unfamiliar with the Arctic.  A number of recommendations are

Alaska has experienced a 500 percent increase in the rate of suicide since 1960.

directed to DOE, which she expects the department to pursue. Grant expects agency collaboration as Secretary Moniz considers the next steps with national research laboratories, federal agencies, University of Alaska, USARC, and others.

Lloyd said the full report will integrate the complex question Sen. Murkowski posed about balancing development with concerns about climate change.  Lloyd says the answer is in the debate in science and research, not sound-bites on Twitter that lack technical data.  She encouraged the scientific community to explore the report findings and talk about what is needed to implement the recommendations.

“Only then can good science and research inform good policy and find middle ground on polarized opinions,” Lloyd said.

Dr. Steve Morrison, Senior VP and Director of the CSIS Global Health Policy Center, moderated the panel “Addressing Arctic Health and Well-Being.”

Conley started the discussion about the challenges of mental health and suicide prevention in the Arctic, citing a recent CSIS study that found every 5 degrees further north sees an 18 percent increase in suicide rates.  Alaska has experienced a 500 percent suicide increase since 1960, and suicide rates are four times higher among Alaska Natives aged 10-19 years olds compared to their non-Native peers.  Conley said substance abuse, food insecurity, food contaminations, and a number of other indicators contribute to this problem and challenged the Arctic Council to focus more on this epidemic by forming a suicide prevention working group.

Conley also recommended the AEC to have a direct role in improving the living standards among Arctic peoples as part of the effort to enhance mental wellness and incorporate traditional knowledge into Arctic health.

Dr. Pamela Collins, Director of the Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health at the National Institute of Mental Health, discussed suicide prevention efforts, mentioning the variation among countries, indigenous groups, communities, genders and Native and non-Native suicide rates.

Dr. Collins traveled recently to Iqaluit for the Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium to review intervention mechanisms that improve mental wellness in indigenous circumpolar communities.  As part of the Canadian chairmanship program, the symposium examined evidence-based and community-driven solutions.  Dr. Collins said the U.S. plans to build on Canadian efforts to communicate successful interventions and harmonize outcome measures in a shared language.

Dr. Michael Bruce of the Arctic Investigations Program at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Anchorage discussed his office’s efforts to reduce infectious diseases in the Arctic and studies on their causes and transmission.

Dr. Bruce’s office is the circumpolar headquarters for disease surveillance, identifying outbreaks and new infections in the Arctic region.  He works with the International Union of Circumpolar Health and the American Society of Circumpolar Health (both of which he previously chaired), and with the U.S. Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee.

Alaska is estimated to reach a population of 915,200 people by the year 2035.

Dr. Bruce discussed the prevalence of water-borne diseases as a result of limited or no water sanitation and plumbing in locations throughout rural Alaska.  He said the water shortage in rural Alaska is the leading cause of spreading disease, not the lack of sewer systems.

The Alaska Department of Health & Social Services has a 2020 target date for delivering in-home water and wastewater services to 87 percent of Alaskans, a target Dr. Bruce says will not be met.  The Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation formed the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge to solicit private sector proposals to decentralize water distribution systems in rural Alaska.

Dr. Bruce highlighted the Circumpolar Water Sanitation Conference in September 2016 as a chance to encourage innovation in water distribution systems in small remote communities. Details are forthcoming on this event.

Dr. Timothy Heleniak, Professor of Geography at George Washington University, wrapped up the panel with a brief presentation on the second volume of the Arctic Human Development Report (found here).  The Icelandic chairmanship of the Arctic Council initiated this report in 2004 and the second volume was published in 2014.  Dr. Heleniak gave an overview of how life expectancy varies between Arctic nations and regional groupings of indigenous peoples.

Dr. Heleniak’s expertise focuses on the Arctic populations and migrations of the 4 million people who live above the Arctic Circle.  Alaska had the highest percentage of population change among all of the Arctic states in 2000-2015, over 15 percent increase.  The total Arctic region had a 3 percent decrease during that time.  Alaska Natives experienced slightly higher infant mortality rates at 9.4 percent compared to other developed regions; Iceland had the lowest rate at 1.8 percent and Greenland the highest at 16.4 percent.

Small haul tanks in Alaska villages have limited capacity, just 2.5 gallons of water per person per day, while the WHO recommends 15 gallons per person per day.

Dr. Heleniak also discussed the gender changes and age trends in indigenous populations in the Arctic regions over the last century.

In projecting future Arctic populations, he said Alaska would increase by 28 percent to over 915,200 people by 2035, mostly from natural growth.  This is higher than the national projection of 15 percent by 2035.

Dr. Heleniak’s full report is found on pages 55-105 in the main report.

Dr. Morrison asked the panelists to review how the U.S. can move forward on these issues while leadingf the Arctic Council.

Dr. Collins said the U.S. should bring attention to mental health needs in the Arctic, especially Alaska, utilize the National Institutes of Health research, and collaborate with other nations.

Dr. Bruce agreed the U.S. should strengthen collaborative partnerships.  He said small haul tanks in villages have limited capacity, just 2.5 gallons of water per person per day, while the World Health Organization recommends 15 gallons per person per day.  Many Lower 48 residents use as much as 50 gallons per person per day.  Villages in Alaska are experiencing extreme water rationing, he said.  The U.S. should partner with Greenland and Russia on water and sanitation initiatives.

Charles Newstead, Science Advisor to the U.S. State Department, asked the panel to compare the health situations in Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and if Russian President Vladimir Putin had some effect on the Russian Arctic’s wellness.

Dr. Bruce said there may be some issues with water distribution in the Arctic region, but information is scarce.  Conley said Russia has a robust sustainable development component, but economic challenges may cause problems in implementing solutions.

Dr. Heleniak agreed Russians seem to be especially susceptible to economic downturns, causing wellness and life expectancy to decline, such as during the 1998 ruble crisis.  When the U.S. faced its latest economic crisis, life expectancy did not suddenly drop as it did in Russia.  Russia has more gender gaps in life expectancy, especially in more remote regions.  But the Russian government hasn’t made any effort to reach out.  In fact, Russia had suspended the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) due to “administrative shortcomings.”

Linda Fernandez, Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, suggested that efforts be made to work with Sweden during its annual World Water Week, which she said is a “great buy-in” for international companies to build water infrastructure.  This event will be held in Stockholm on Aug. 23-28. 2015.  Closer to home, the Water and Health Conference 2015 will be held in Chapel Hill, NC, in October 2015 to discuss the status of drinking water, water sanitation and public health throughout the U.S.