On Important Arctic Shipping Routes, Russia Advances while U.S. Falls Behind

Thinning of Arctic ice, icebreaking technology, and growing supply and demand for resources have made the Arctic an important area to develop efficient shipping routes.

Thus far, Russia has taken advantage of shipping links connecting Europe and Asia. Currently, the US and Canada have the potential to take advantage of Arctic shipping regimes in the St.Lawerence Seaway and in linking the Great Lakes to the Atlantic.

Mead Treadwell, President of Anchorage-based Pt Capital, former Alaska Lieutenant Governor and former chair of the US Arctic Research Commission outlines domestic benefits of developing safe and reliable shipping routes in the Arctic in the pages of the Alaska Dispatch News.

Perhaps the most effective model for an Arctic shipping regime is the St. Lawrence Seaway, operated by Canada and the U.S. and linking the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. Last year, the Seaway’s 3,900 vessel customers carried 37.1 million metric tons of cargo, mostly grain, iron ore and bulk commodities. Icebreakers provided by the U.S. and Canada ensured the route stayed open 286 days. A Seaway analysis says their infrastructure supports 227,000 jobs, $35 billion in economic activity, and saved shippers $3.6 billion in transport costs.

The Arctic basin contains 13 percent of the world’s potential oil and 30 percent of the world’s potential gas. Leaving Russia alone to shepherd shipping from the Arctic gives them even more dangerous leverage over global energy supplies. Avoiding future conflict is in Russia’s interest, as well as our own; all nations would be served by greater international cooperation in Arctic shipping.

Alaska, Canada and Russia benefit daily, financially, from their Arctic territory in the rapidly growing international aviation market. For Anchorage, operations in support of international air cargo produces thousands of jobs; close to 50,000 Alaskans work in aviation overall. Russia and Canada get less of the interchange revenue but earn millions every year for flights over their territory. (The U.S. does not charge.) Meanwhile, much of the industrialized world benefits from shorter passenger and cargo flights. The same global benefits can arise from a determined effort to establish safe, secure and reliable Arctic shipping.

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