Due to continued ice melting in the Arctic, a potential new route for shipping cargo has opened up. Analysts have estimated that in 2021 approximately 15 million metric tons of cargo will be transported using the Arctic route. China Ocean Shipping Group Company (COSCO) plans to reduce their shipping time by two weeks with the use of this route. This will benefit European countries, which represent China’s largest trade partners.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now drilling in two sites in Northwest Alaska: in Nome and Port Clarence. These sites can serve as deep-water ports to protect Alaska’s northernmost coasts from international ship traffic and pioneering resource development. There is a small Coast Guard station located about 70 miles northwest of Nome that could provide services, such as search and rescue for the growing number of vessels using the Northwest Passage.

Alaska is addressing rising concerns about oil spills related to increased traffic and new development in the Arctic with two existing oil spill recovery resources. The Oil Spill Recovery Institute identifies and develops the best techniques, equipment and materials available in the Arctic and sub-Arctic for oil spill recovery. The Vertical Adhesion Band Foxtail Skimmer cycles six individual 15-meter rope mops through pooled oil, which the oil adheres to. The mops are then fed through the skimmer’s wringing system for oil collection. The State of Alaska Division of Spill Prevention and Response continues to develop prevention and preparedness tools to reduce the likelihood of incidents.

As ice continues to recede in the Arctic, industry opportunities are in full flux. The territories in the Arctic contain significant natural resources consisting of conventional hydrocarbons (natural gas, condensate and oil), metals, fish, high-value minerals and fresh water. The Arctic will provide a passage to ship oil, gas and other resources all over the world and in less time than the routes utilized today.

Increased use of the Northwest Passage will create new needs in areas for infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports and railways. New business opportunities will become available in Alaska and provide business expansion opportunities for service providers.

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