GOP senator: US is 'woefully behind' in Arctic oil exploration

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Thursday warned that the United States is "woefully behind" other countries, when it comes to development in the Arctic.

Murkowski and other members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee raised concerns over the nation's lack of preparation for the changing situation in the Arctic. 

Murkowski criticized the "lack of capacity" the U.S. has in the region to increase exploration and development.  

One major issue, Murkowski and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) raised, is the absence of icebreakers in the region. 

"If you can't move, it makes it tough to do much of anything and as a nation we are woefully behind," Murkowski said. 

Thursday's hearing comes as the U.S. is preparing to take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which rotates every two years. 

Testifying before the committee, Adm. Robert Papp, who was appointed by the State Department as special representative to the Arctic, said the U.S. hit the "sweet spot" in crafting its implementation plan between climate change policies and security for the region.

Still, Papp said, much more is needed in the Arctic to advance maritime safety. 

"Climate-related changes in the Arctic are already profoundly impacting the United States and the rest of the planet," Papp said. "Reductions in sea ice are positioning the Arctic Ocean to be increasingly accessible in the short and long terms."

"There are plenty of needs up there," he added.

While Papp said icebreakers are one of those needs, he also said the U.S. is "behind the power curve in terms of being prepared" for an oil spill in the Arctic.

Papp said the U.S. and other countries on the council need to begin "identifying shortfalls in terms of response equipment, inventorying what's available amongst the countries that surround the Arctic so that we can get a step ahead of what inevitably will happen." 

"There will be a spill of some sort whether it's from drilling or from a marine casualty," he added. 

The U.S. will take over the chairmanship in April and released its priorities for taking over the council late last year.  

High on the list of priorities is climate change and effective stewardship of the Arctic Ocean.