Energy exploration in the Arctic has been a hot topic in recent years and is not likely to cool down in 2014.
The United States was stuck in neutral on the topic for 2013, but those opposed to oil and natural gas exploration anywhere have used federal inaction to advance their arguments against any development.
Whether the Arctic will be explored is no longer a question of if, but when. While U.S. officials have stood on the edge, contemplating new regulations and new requirements, other countries have moved ahead.
Russia, Canada and Norway continued to advance their exploration programs in 2013, and 2014 will see more Arctic exploration.
Federal officials have repeatedly stated their desire to establish an Arctic exploration program that will set worldwide standards.
However, we cannot lead when we are not even in the game. Currently, the U.S. is sidelined by its own policies — or lack thereof.
There isn’t much disagreement that the Arctic is a unique ecosystem that provides a great array of natural resources and a vital subsistence livelihood to its residents.
However, the Arctic also holds the great potential of large natural gas and oil resources. Producing those resources would provide local jobs and economic benefits, and also add a vital energy supply line to the rest of the world.
Those who oppose oil and natural gas exploration simply state that Arctic development cannot safely take place. Fortunately, the oil and gas industry operating in Arctic waters outside the U.S. is showing that is not the case.
The industry has a duty and obligation to minimize risk, and is full of individuals dedicated to seeing that exploration and development is done with safe operations and environmental protection as top priorities.
If the U.S. wants to be a leader in Arctic development, the federal government should make 2014 a year of action and achievement rather than just talk.
The Department of the Interior needs to complete its Arctic regulations and release them for public comment so that the process may be completed.
President Obama needs to work closely with interested parties, including the oil and gas industry, to move forward with a program that will provide local benefits, such as revenue sharing, and broader national benefits, such as increased energy security and less reliance on foreign oil.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that the world will use oil and natural gas as a primary source of energy for generations to come.
Nontraditional fuels will become a bigger share of that energy portfolio, but are still expected to supply only about 15 percent of the world’s energy supply.
So what will 2014 bring for U.S. energy interests in the Arctic? Now is the time for our policymakers to decide whether 2014 will be another year on the sidelines in the Arctic, or a year of actually being allowed in the game.
Randall Luthi heads the National Ocean Industries Association in Washington, D.C.
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