Posts Tagged ‘arctic oil’

Melting Arctic sea ice drives walruses onto land

August 25, 2011

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON | Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:52pm EDT
(Reuters) – Original article here

Photo Credit: Liz Labunski/USFWS

Fast-melting Arctic sea ice appears to be pushing walruses to haul themselves out onto land, and many are moving around the area where oil leases have been sold, the U.S. Geological Survey reports.

Walruses are accomplished divers and frequently plunge hundreds of feet (meters) to the bottom of the continental shelf to feed. But they use sea ice as platforms to give birth, nurse their young and elude predators, and when sea ice is scarce or non-existent, as it has been this summer, they come up on land.

Last September, the loss of sea ice caused an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 walruses to venture onto land, and as sea ice melts reached a record last month, U.S. government scientists are working with Alaskan villagers to put radio transmitters on some of the hauled-out walruses to track their movements around the Chukchi Sea.

“The ice is very widely dispersed and there is little of it left over the continental shelf,” researcher Chad Jay of the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement on Wednesday. “Based on our tracking data, the walruses appear to be spreading out and spending quite a bit of time looking for sea ice.”

The loss of sea ice puts Pacific walruses at risk, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but other, higher-priority species will get attention first. In February, the wildlife service listed Pacific walruses as candidates for protection, though not protection itself.

Walruses are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which means these animals cannot be harvested, imported, exported or be part of interstate commerce.

Polar bears, which also use sea ice in the Chukchi Sea as platforms for hunting, have been designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because of declining sea ice in the Arctic.

Compared to last year’s massive haul-out, there are few walruses on land, and there is no solid count, Jay said.

“There is a lot less ice than there used to be on the continental shelf this time of year,” he said. “So we might be headed into a new normal.”

Transmissions from the radio-tagged walruses offer a good picture of where these creatures are in the Chukchi Sea in a U.S. Geological Survey graphic updated approximately weekly.

SHRINKING ARCTIC SEA ICE

Available online here , the graphic shows where the walruses were when they were first tagged (shown as red Xs) and how they moved around the water (shown as yellow dots).

The graphic also shows changes in sea ice cover in the far north, indicating nearly ice-free conditions in areas where the walruses are moving. Many are within the boundaries of an oil lease sale area that stretches along the northwestern Alaska coast and far into the Chukchi Sea.

Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil hold leases in the Chukchi Sea, though no drilling has started.

Last month saw Arctic sea ice drop to its lowest extent — meaning that it covered the smallest area — for any July since satellite records began in 1979, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Typically, Arctic sea ice hits its lowest extent for the year in September.

This record-low ice extent for July is lower than July ice extent in 2007, when ice extent shrank in September to its smallest area in the satellite record.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

Retreating Arctic ice opens way to resources

May 24, 2011
By Joby Warrick and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
Updated: 05/21/2011 10:01:51 PM CDT
Original article here

Retreating Arctic ice has made Greenland's western coast accessible for oil exploration and drilling, which has created competition among rival nations. (Washington Post: Joby Warrick)

NUUK, Greenland – Here, just south of the Arctic Circle, where the sea ice is vanishing like dew on a July morning, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.

Across the region, a warming Arctic is opening up new competition for resources that until recently were out of reach, protected under a thick layer of ice. As glaciers defrost and ice floes diminish, the North is being viewed as a source of not only great wealth but also conflict, diplomats and policy experts say.

In recent months, oil companies have begun lining up for exploration rights to Baffin Bay, a hydrocarbon-rich region on Greenland’s western coast that until recently was too ice-choked for drilling. U.S. and Canadian diplomats have reopened a spat over navigation rights to a sea route through the Canadian Arctic that could cut shipping time and costs for long-haul tankers.

Even ownership of the North Pole has come into dispute, as Russia and Denmark pursue rival claims to the underlying seabed in hopes of locking up access to everything from fisheries to natural-gas deposits.

The intense rivalry over Arctic development was highlighted in diplomatic cables released recently by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Messages between U.S. diplomats revealed how northern nations, including the United States and Russia, have been maneuvering to ensure access to shipping lanes as well as undersea oil and gas deposits that are estimated to contain up to 25 percent of the world’s untapped reserves.

In the cables, U.S. officials worried that bickering over resources might even lead to an arming of the Arctic.

“While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention,” a 2009 State Department cable quoted a Russian ambassador as saying.

Concern over competition in the Arctic was partly behind an extraordinary diplomatic gathering recently in Greenland’s tiny capital Nuuk. This year’s meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council drew seven foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to attend an Arctic Council session. Accompanying Clinton was a second U.S. Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Clinton and her aides sought to call attention to climate change during the visit, highlighting new studies that show Arctic ice melting far more rapidly than scientists had believed. But Clinton also promoted a message of international cooperation in the Arctic.

“The challenges in the region are not just environmental,” Clinton said in Nuuk following talks with her Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen. “The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.”

Clinton’s presence at the Nuuk meeting was intended to show U.S. support for the Arctic Council as a critical forum for cooperation and to resolve conflicts. With strong backing from the Obama administration, the council approved the first legally binding treaty in its history, a pact that sets the rules for maritime search and rescue in the region. Although modest in scope, the treaty, authored mainly by Russia and the United States, was hailed as a template for future agreements on issues ranging from oil-spill cleanup to territorial disputes.

Significantly, the eight member nations voted to establish a permanent secretariat to the council, to be located in Tronso, Norway. Clinton asserted that the region’s powers must recognize the council as the “preeminent intergovernmental body, where we can solve shared problems and pursue shared opportunities.”

“The opportunities for economic development in the Arctic must be weighed against the need to protect its environment and ecosystems. And governments will not always see eye to eye on how to achieve this balance,” Clinton said. “That’s why this council is so important.”

In the diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, there was no dispute about rapid warming under way. The predominant questions revolved around how the region’s newly accessible resources would be carved up.

Top quality Barents Sea oil

April 21, 2011
Barents Observer 2011-04-12 Original article here
The Polar Pioneer jackup rig (photo: Harald Pettersen / Statoil)The Polar Pioneer jackup rig (photo: Harald Pettersen / Statoil)

This oil is like champagne, Statoil’s Helge Lund says about the newly discovered Skrugard field in the Barents Sea.

Talking at the Energy Conference in Bergen today, Helge Lund underlined that the oil which his company has found in the Skrugard field in the Barents Sea is of the very best quality.

-The Skrugard oil is almost like champagne, he said in his presentation, newspaper Dagens Næringsliv reports. –It is light and nice, and makes us very optimistic, he added.

Read also: Finally large Barents oil discovery

The Statoil leader does not exclude that his company now has found a key approach to understanding the geology of the Barents Sea. Over the last years, a number of wells have been drilled in the area, but only a couple of fields of significance found. Statoil already operates the Snøhvit gas field, and ENI is preparing for production at its Goliat oil field.

In his conference presentation today, Helge Lund showed a map depicting the Snøhvit, the Goliat and the Skrugard fields. –This could actually be a new industrial horizon with three building blocks, he maintained.

The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy now intends to offer a number of new licenses to blocks in the area of the Skrugard field. The finding of Skrugard has a significance which can not be exaggerated, State Secretary Per Rune Henriksen said at the conference, DN.no reports. In the course of spring this year, new licenses will be issued as part of the 21th Norwegian license round.

Norway now also intend to start geological mapping of the newly delineated waters further east in the Barents Sea. As previously reported by BarentsObserver, Norwegian authorities have on several occasions confirmed that seismic studies of the waters will start as soon as the delimitation deal has been ratified by both Norway and Russia. Russia completed the ratification process last week.

Read also: It’s a deal!

Text: Atle Staalesen

Statoil reports “significant oil find” in Barents Sea (Norwegian only)

April 1, 2011

Satoil, April 1.st 2011 – Original article here

Statoil har sammen med partnerne Eni Norge og Petoro gjort et betydelig oljefunn på Skrugard-prospektet i Barentshavet. Funnet er et gjennombrudd i dette uutforskede området og en av de viktigste lete-hendelsene på norsk sokkel de siste ti årene.

Statoil er sammen med partnerskapet i ferd med å avslutte boringen på Skrugard-prospektet som ligger ca. 100 kilometer nord for Snøhvit-feltet i Barentshavet.

Brønnen, som er boret med riggen Polar Pioneer, har påvist en gasskolonne på 33 meter og en oljekolonne på 90 meter. Oljen er av lett og fin produserbar kvalitet.

Dette gir estimerte volumer på mellom 150 og 250 millioner fat utvinnbare olje-ekvivalenter (o.e.) i funnet, samtidig som Statoil ser muligheter for ytterligere oppside i lisensen på inntil 250 millioner fat, totalt 500 millioner fat o.e.

BildeKonserndirektør for leting i Statoil, Tim Dodson.

– Funnet på Skrugard er betydelig og et gjennombrudd for frontier-leting i Barentshavet. Dette åpner en ny oljeprovins som kan gi ytterligere ressurstilvekst, sier konserndirektør for leting i Statoil, Tim Dodson.

Han understreker at det er for tidlig å si noe om det totale potensialet i området, men drister seg likevel til å karakterisere Skrugard-funnet som den viktigste letehendelsen på norsk sokkel de siste ti årene. Funnet er viktig for å opprettholde aktiviteten i teknologi- og kompetansemiljøene i oljeindustrien fremover.

Statoil har i sine planer lagt inn både boring av nytt prospekt i samme lisens neste år, samt en mulig avgrensningsboring på funnet.

Skrugard-prospektet var Statoils første prioritet i den 20. konsesjonsrunden på norsk sokkel som ble tildelt i april 2009. I løpet av våren vil myndighetene tildele leteareal i 21. konsesjonsrunde der areal i nærliggende områder av Skrugard forventes tildelt.

Boreoperasjonene har vært gjennomført på en sikker, effektiv og miljøvennlig måte. Det er tatt flere kjerneprøver for å forstå reservoaregenskapene og fortsatt gjenstår noe datainnsamling i brønnen.

Totalt er det boret mer enn 80 brønner i Barentshavet Sør og Statoil har vært operatør for mer enn 60 av disse. Snøhvit hvor Statoil er operatør, er det eneste feltsenteret som hittil er etablert i Barentshavet, mens Enis Goliat-felt er under utbygging.

– Barentshavet er stort, og vi kan ikke med dette si at vi har knekket koden for hele området, men vi har fått bekreftet at letemodellen vår er riktig. Det er et gjennombrudd og det er et viktig steg for å forstå hvordan geologien, og dermed hydrokarbonsystemene i Barentshavet fungerer, sier Dodson.

– Dersom volumanslagene blir bekreftet, vil dette funnet kunne gi grunnlag for en selvstendig utbygging. Med tanke på at det tar mellom 5 og 10 år fra funn til produksjon, så er det nå vi planlegger for fremtiden. Vi har ambisjoner om å få satt dette i produksjon raskest mulig, sier han.

Statoil er operatør for lisens 532 med en andel på 50 prosent. Partnere er Eni (30 prosent) og Petoro (20 prosent).

Bilde

UPDATE 3-Big Statoil Arctic find revives Norway’s oil future (Reuters)

April 1, 2011

April 1st. 2011, Reuters, Original article here

* Skrugard holds 150-250 mln boe recoverable reserves

* Potential upside for total 500 mln boe

* Most significant off Norway in last decade

* Nearby prospect could also have big potential

* Statoil shares to three-and-a-half-year high

(Adds environmental concern, updates shares)

By Gwladys Fouche and Henrik Stoelen

OSLO, April 1 (Reuters) – Norway’s Statoil (STL.OL) has made a big oil find in the Arctic North, the firm said on Friday, breathing new life into Norway’s declining oil prospects and lifting the company’s shares to a 3.5-year high.

The company said the 150-250 million barrels of oil equivalent Skrugard discovery in the Barents Sea could potentially hold up to 500 million barrels and is the most significant off Norway in the last decade. It said a nearby prospect also looked promising. “This is fantastic, a breakthrough for us in this section of the Barents Sea,” Gro Gunleiksrud Haatvedt, Statoil’s head of exploration off Norway, told Reuters.

“This find will lead to a new boom in exploration in the area,” said Magnus Smistad, an analyst at Fondsfinans. “This is an exciting area and the potential could be even bigger.”

Statoil shares were up 2.2 percent to 156.7 crowns at 1612 GMT while shares in Italy’s Eni (ENI.MI), which has a 30 percent stake in the licence, were up 1.85 percent to 17.65 euros.

Norway is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter and the second-largest for gas but its oil output has been declining since 2001 and oil discoveries have become ever smaller.

In January Norwegian authorities slashed their estimates for offshore undiscovered oil and gas resources by 21 percent to 16.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent, making the country less attractive to oil majors — until today. [ID:nLDE70B1MD]

“This discovery is the missing element needed to develop the Barents Sea into an oil province over the long-term,” Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Ola Borten Moe said in a statement.

Finding oil in the Barents Sea has been tough. More than 80 exploration wells have been drilled there since 1980 but only two discoveries have been made — Statoil’s Snoehvit gas field and Eni’s Goliat oilfield.

Discovered in 2000, Goliat was the biggest oil find made in the Norwegian Barents Sea until now, with an estimated 240 million barrels in oil equivalent.

The find could lead to renewed concern about the impact of oil activity in a remote part of the Arctic, following the BP (BP.L) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Before drilling on Skrugard began last year, the Norwegian Polar Institute expressed worries about the potential impact of oil leaks that could get trapped in the Arctic sea ice, which extends to within some 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Skrugard.

Haatvedt said Statoil would drill another well at Skrugard next year, which is about two-third oil and one-third gas, as well as another well at a nearby prospect.

“The other prospect has big potential, with a strong upside,” the executive said, declining to offer more details. The third partner in the license is Norwegian state-owned firm Petoro, which holds a 20 percent stake.

“It takes between 5 to 10 years from making a discovery to production, so we are planning for the future now … “We want to start production as soon as possible,” Statoil said, adding that it saw possibilities for a stand-alone production installation for Skrugard.

(Editing by Richard Mably and Jason Neely)

U.S. Navy Scrambles for Piece of Arctic Pie (William Pentland/Forbes)

March 31, 2011

William Pentland/Forbes Mar. 25 2011 – Original article here

The U.S. Navy is staging the aquatic-equivalent of a dog-and-pony show in the Arctic Ocean this month with a small fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

The military exercises are designed to bolster U.S. claims on emerging – and likely lucrative – commercial opportunities in the region, which have attracted intense interest in recent years as global warming accelerates what appears to be the permanent loss of sea ice in the Arctic.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported in early March that 2011 has tied with 2006 for the record low sea-ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean (in the satellite record). By the mid-2030s, scientists have predicted that the Arctic will be ice-free for at least one month of every summer, which will expand to two-to-three ice-free months by around mid-century.

The U.S. Navy has deployed two nuclear-powered submarines off the coast of Alaska close to a temporary camp constructed on the ice roughly 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay. The submarines are conducting military training exercises.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

On March 7, 2011, the winter ice covering the Arctic reached its maximum size for the year at 5.65 million square miles, which is more than 20% below – or, 463,000 square miles – below the average annual coverage from 1979 to 2000 (6.12 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.

The exercises train U.S. submarine crews to deal with craggy ice keels that extend 20 to 50 feet into the water, and varying salinity levels that complicate communications and navigation under the ice cap.

Submarine crews practice surfacing the 8,000-ton submarines, directly through thick ice or in nearby open waters, and learn to avoid hitting another ship. The ice exercise, which did not include any torpedo testing, cost an estimated $3.5 million, according to Larry Estrada, director of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory which manages the camps with the Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data CenterThe graph above shows daily Arctic sea ice extent as of March 22, 2011, along with daily ice extents for 2006, which had the previous lowest maximum extent, and 2007, the year with the lowest minimum extent in September. Light blue indicates 2011, green shows 2007, light green shows 2006, and dark gray shows the 1979 to 2000 average. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

A delegation of defense contractors and military brass visited the camp last week, according to Reuters. The training was meant to ensure that the United States maintained access to the Arctic, home to the world’s largest undiscovered oil and gas reserves. Russia, the United States, Denmark, Greenland, Canada and Norway, which border the Arctic, and China are also scrambling to control the region and access to the commercial ventures there.

“It is a key potential transit line between the Atlantic and the Pacific,” U.S. Navy Captain Rhett Jaehn, told Reuters. “We want to be able to demonstrate that we have global reach. That we can operate in all oceans, and that we can operate proficiently in any environment.”

Jaehn is the commanding officer for the more than two dozen Navy officials, researchers, engineers and scientists working at the temporary ice camp. Ironically, finding a thick enough ice sheet to support the temporary camp was among the difficulties the Navy encountered this year.

Receding ice levels are likely to open new shipping routes in the Arctic, which could ultimately make the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska a compelling alternative to shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

Military power demonstration in the Arctic

March 26, 2011
International Business Times, March 25, 2011 – Original article here

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and a Who's Who of other VIPs braved below-zero temperatures this month to visit a temporary camp on the ice about 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where two nuclear-powered U.S. submarines are conducting military training exercises.

Picture gallery here

A congressional delegation and the Secretary of the Navy walk around the Seawolf class submarine USS Connecticut after the boat surfaced through through Arctic sea ice during an exercise near the 2011 Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 18, 2011. The new digital “Deep Siren” tactical messaging system built by Raytheon Co could revolutionize how military commanders stay in touch with submarines all over the world, allowing them to alert a submarine about an enemy ship on the surface or a new mission, without it needing to surface to periscope level, or 60 feet, where it could be detected by potential enemies. At present, submarines use an underwater phone to communicate with associates on top of the ice or with other submarines, but those devices are little more than tin cans on a string and work only at shorter distances. Picture taken March 18, 2011.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and a Who’s Who of other VIPs braved below-zero temperatures this month to visit a temporary camp on the ice about 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where two nuclear-powered U.S. submarines are conducting military training exercises.

He said U.S. submarines are a powerful symbol of U.S. military power, and the training was meant to ensure that the United States maintained access to the Arctic, home to the world’s largest undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

“It is a key potential transit line between the Atlantic and the Pacific. We want to be able to demonstrate that we have global reach. That we can operate in all oceans, and that we can operate proficiently in any environment,” Jaehn said.

Russia, the United States, Denmark, Greenland, Canada and Norway, which border the Arctic, and China are already jockeying for position to benefit from new business opportunities there.

Navy scientists predict the Arctic will have one ice-free summer month in about the mid-2030s, and two to three ice-free months by around mid-century. Less ice means the 56-mile wide Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska could one day compete with the Persian Gulf and other shipping lanes because it is as much as 40 percent shorter than conventional routes.

Changing ice conditions in the Arctic are expected to lead to greater commercial traffic, increasing the need for submarine and Coast Guard patrols.

The Navy’s chief oceanographer, Rear Admiral David Titley, who visited the camp last week, said just finding a thick enough multi-year ice sheet to put the camp was difficult this year.

Russia threatens to sue BP over Arctic deal

March 26, 2011

The Kremlin wall is reflected in a plaque at the entrance of the headquarters of the state-owned oil company Rosneft in Moscow. Russia's largest oil firm Rosneft threatened to seek compensation from the British energy giant BP over a blocked deal to jointly dig for oil in the Arctic.

March 26, 2011 Terranet/AFP – Original article here

Russia’s largest oil firm Rosneft threatened on Friday to seek compensation from the British energy giant BP over a blocked deal to jointly dig for oil in the Arctic.

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin — chairman of the Rosneft board and a close ally of Vladimir Putin — said Rosneft would not be deterred from its plans to explore the untapped northern sea riches whoever its partner might be.

Sechin’s comments suggested that Rosneft was willing to move on if its $16 billion tie-up with BP failed to go though because of the Stockholm arbitration panel ruling.

The Stockholm panel said the deal violated BP executive’s shareholder agreement with the Russian partners in their local TNK-BP joint venture.

TNK-BP had a right of first refusal on all BP deals in Russia and wanted to take its parent company’s place in the Rosneft alliance.

The Russian energy czar had previously warned that Rosneft would seek compensation from either BP or TNK-BP if their internal boardroom struggle ultimately scuppered the deal.

And he repeated on Friday that Rosneft planned to “respond in an adequate manner” to the Stockholm panel decision.

“Why only BP?” Sechin told Russian news agencies when asked if Rosneft might now seek damages from the British firm.

“The company will weigh who is at fault for the break-up. There are certain losses there (at Rosneft) already,” he added.

“In either case, Rosneft intends to defend its position.”

Analysts said the billionaires who represent the Russian half of TNK-BP may now either seek tens of billions of dollars as a buyout from BP or otherwise leverage their position as a vital player in the politically-sensitive tie-up.

The unprecedented Rosneft-BP share-swap and Arctic exploration agreement was announced with great fanfare by Putin on January 15.

The deal would have handed Rosneft five percent of BP’s ordinary voting shares in exchange for approximately 9.5 percent of the Russian company’s stock.

The two firms also agreed to jointly search for oil in Rosneft’s three licensed blocks in the Arctic — a 125,000 square kilometre (48,000 square mile) region said to contain five billion tonnes of oil and 3.0 trillion cubic metres of gas.

BP said in a statement that it may now return to arbitration in a bid to complete the share swap portion of the Rosneft agreement.

Sechin said he was willing to wait for BP executives and their Russian partner to come to some sort of agreement before deciding how to proceeded.

But he stressed that the setback would not alter Rosneft’s plans to explore the Arctic no matter whom its partner might be.

“Arctic exploration will continue in any event,” Sechin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

“BP suits us as a partner, but the current complications should in no way affect our overall plans on Arctic exploration,” he said.

News of the decision sent Rosneft shares down one percent in later afternoon trading on Moscow’s MICEX exchange while those of TNK-BP were up two percent.

U.S. Navy Scrambles for Piece of Arctic Pie (Pentland/Forbes)

March 26, 2011

William Pentland/Forbes Mar. 25 2011 – Original article here

The U.S. Navy is staging the aquatic-equivalent of a dog-and-pony show in the Arctic Ocean this month with a small fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

The military exercises are designed to bolster U.S. claims on emerging – and likely lucrative – commercial opportunities in the region, which have attracted intense interest in recent years as global warming accelerates what appears to be the permanent loss of sea ice in the Arctic.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported in early March that 2011 has tied with 2006 for the record low sea-ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean (in the satellite record). By the mid-2030s, scientists have predicted that the Arctic will be ice-free for at least one month of every summer, which will expand to two-to-three ice-free months by around mid-century.

The U.S. Navy has deployed two nuclear-powered submarines off the coast of Alaska close to a temporary camp constructed on the ice roughly 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay. The submarines are conducting military training exercises.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

On March 7, 2011, the winter ice covering the Arctic reached its maximum size for the year at 5.65 million square miles, which is more than 20% below – or, 463,000 square miles – below the average annual coverage from 1979 to 2000 (6.12 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.

The exercises train U.S. submarine crews to deal with craggy ice keels that extend 20 to 50 feet into the water, and varying salinity levels that complicate communications and navigation under the ice cap.

Submarine crews practice surfacing the 8,000-ton submarines, directly through thick ice or in nearby open waters, and learn to avoid hitting another ship. The ice exercise, which did not include any torpedo testing, cost an estimated $3.5 million, according to Larry Estrada, director of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory which manages the camps with the Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data CenterThe graph above shows daily Arctic sea ice extent as of March 22, 2011, along with daily ice extents for 2006, which had the previous lowest maximum extent, and 2007, the year with the lowest minimum extent in September. Light blue indicates 2011, green shows 2007, light green shows 2006, and dark gray shows the 1979 to 2000 average. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

A delegation of defense contractors and military brass visited the camp last week, according to Reuters. The training was meant to ensure that the United States maintained access to the Arctic, home to the world’s largest undiscovered oil and gas reserves. Russia, the United States, Denmark, Greenland, Canada and Norway, which border the Arctic, and China are also scrambling to control the region and access to the commercial ventures there.

“It is a key potential transit line between the Atlantic and the Pacific,” U.S. Navy Captain Rhett Jaehn, told Reuters. “We want to be able to demonstrate that we have global reach. That we can operate in all oceans, and that we can operate proficiently in any environment.”

Jaehn is the commanding officer for the more than two dozen Navy officials, researchers, engineers and scientists working at the temporary ice camp. Ironically, finding a thick enough ice sheet to support the temporary camp was among the difficulties the Navy encountered this year.

Receding ice levels are likely to open new shipping routes in the Arctic, which could ultimately make the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska a compelling alternative to shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

US submarines surface in tug of war over Arctic riches (Reuters)

March 26, 2011

Ice camp called way to show US ‘use and presence’ as other nations make claims

By Andrea Shalal-Esa/Reuters 3/25/2011 – Original article here

APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY ICE STATION, Arctic Ocean — The United States is staging high-profile submarine exercises in the Arctic Ocean as evidence mounts that global warming will lead to more mining, oil production, shipping and fishing in the world’s last frontier.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and a Who’s Who of other VIPs braved below-zero temperatures this month to visit a temporary camp on the ice about 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where two nuclear-powered U.S. submarines are conducting military training exercises.

“It is important for us to continue to train and operate in the Arctic,” said U.S. Navy Captain Rhett Jaehn, the No. 2 official overseeing U.S. submarine forces.

He said U.S. submarines are a powerful symbol of U.S. military power, and the training was meant to ensure that the United States maintained access to the Arctic, home to the world’s largest undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

“It is a key potential transit line between the Atlantic and the Pacific. We want to be able to demonstrate that we have global reach. That we can operate in all oceans, and that we can operate proficiently in any environment,” Jaehn said.

Russia, the United States, Denmark, Greenland, Canada and Norway, which border the Arctic, and China are already jockeying for position to benefit from new business opportunities there.

Navy scientists predict the Arctic will have one ice-free summer month in about the mid-2030s, and two to three ice-free months by around mid-century. Less ice means the 56-mile wide Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska could one day compete with the Persian Gulf and other shipping lanes because it is as much as 40 percent shorter than conventional routes.

Changing ice conditions in the Arctic are expected to lead to greater commercial traffic, increasing the need for submarine and Coast Guard patrols.

The Navy’s chief oceanographer, Rear Adm. David Titley, who visited the camp last week, said just finding a thick enough multi-year ice sheet to put the camp was difficult this year.

Jaehn is the officer in charge of the temporary ice camp, where more than two dozen Navy officials, researchers, engineers and scientists, and some military officials from Britain and Canada, are facilitating the biannual exercises.