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Executive Summary for January 14th

We review and analyze the latest news and most important developments in the Arctic, including the U.S. Coast Guard announcement that it will invest in two new icebreakers, and conservation groups backing the U.S. federal government’s decision to deny Shell’s request to extend its Alaska oil leases.

Published on Jan. 14, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

U.S. Moves to Buy New Icebreakers

The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Wednesday its plan to purchase two new icebreakers to support its operations in the Arctic, reported Reuters. The Coast Guard released a notice detailing the timeline and requirements for the acquisition.

The icebreakers are expected to cost more than $1 billion apiece, but the Coast Guard hasn’t detailed how it would pay for the vessels, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The U.S. has two working icebreakers and a third that hasn’t been used for five years because of engine problems. Russia already has 41 icebreakers and is building 14 more, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic International Studies on Wednesday.

The Coast Guard has said that it does not have the capacity to carry out search and rescue and oil spill response missions in the Arctic if the region sees a rise in tourist cruises and natural resource development, according to Reuters.

In the notice, the Coast Guard signalled that the new ships must have the ability to break through ice 1.8 meters (6 feet) thick while running at a speed of three knots. They would have to operate for 80 days without refueling and be able to cover about 40,000 kilometers (21,500 nautical miles) at a speed of 12 knots in ice-free waters.

Admiral Robert Papp, the previous commandant of the Coast Guard and the U.S. State Department’s special representative for the Arctic, told Breaking Defense that the 2017 budget would contain details on the acquisition of more than one icebreaker.

The omnibus appropriation bill approved in December increased the Coast Guard budget to almost more than $1 billion above 2015 levels to “improve readiness, modernize vessels and aircraft, and improve the quality of life for our service members.”

The Coast Guard needs three heavy and three medium icebreakers to support its operations, according to a 2015 study, the Arctic Journal reported.

According to the WSJ, the new ship wouldn’t enter into service until 2024.

Conservation Groups Challenge Shell’s Bid to Extend Oil Leases

Earthjustice, on behalf of eight conservation groups, has filed a challenge with the U.S. Department of the Interior to support the agency’s decision to deny Shell Oil’s request to extend the terms of its oil drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean, reports UPI.

Shell holds leases off the coast of Alaska, in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, that expire between 2017 and 2020. In September, Shell said that it had found evidence of oil and natural gas, but not enough to continue its activity.

The federal government has denied a request by Shell to extend those leases. Shell has launched an appeal to reverse the decision. Federal leases expire at the end of their terms unless the operators are engaged in drilling or other activities.

Earthjustice is representing Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, National Audubon Society, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.

“The Arctic Ocean is ground zero for climate change, and drilling in such a sensitive region threatens the whales, seals and countless other wildlife that call it home,” Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe said in a statement.

Recommended Reading

Top image: The U.S. Coast Guard has announced that it will soon add two new ships to its fleet. The Coast Guard Cutter Healy is seen here in the Arctic Ocean with the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent in the background. (U.S. Coast Guard/Patrick Kelley)

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