If We Have Trouble Delivering Fuel on Land, How Would We Handle a Winter Oil Spill in the Arctic Ocean?
The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy approaches the Russian-flagged tanker vessel Renda Tuesday evening.
By Kiley Kroh
Today the Russian tanker Renda, escorted by the United States’ only operating icebreaking vessel, will attempt to make its final push in delivering much-needed fuel to the remote, icebound community of Nome, Alaska. The ships’ progress has been impeded by high winds, strong currents, brutal cold, and thick sea ice. They moved just 50 feet on Tuesday and slowed even further on Wednesday. With a 25-foot ice ridge still blocking access to the harbor, the tanker will be forced to attempt offloading its cargo through a mile-long hose to shore.
The tanker Renda and ice-breaker Healy arrive in the area of the ice-choked Nome harbor today. Photo KNOM.
Ordinarily, the last delivery is made prior to the ice closing in, but this year it was delayed by a “monster storm” that hit Alaska in early November covering an area twice the size of Texas. The tempest produced hurricane-force winds, blizzard conditions, coastal flooding, and spurred evacuations of many coastal communities. The 3,500 residents of Nome, a city located on the western coast of Alaska, rely on tanker barges to deliver home heating oil, gasoline, and diesel for the winter months. The village has enough fuel to last until March, but ice in the Bering Sea won’t clear until midsummer. In a bid to avoid the $9 per gallon gasoline that would likely result from flying fuel into the isolated city, the Nome-based Sitnasuak Native Corporation signed a contract to have a double-hulled Ice Classed Russian tanker deliver the 1.3 million gallons of fuel.
The unprecedented effort has captured worldwide attention and also brought serious concerns to light about the nation’s insufficient resources and infrastructure in the Arctic. With the President of Royal Dutch Shell expressing confidence yesterday that his company will begin drilling in the fragile Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast this summer, addressing these concerns becomes even more urgent.