The Obama administration Friday released a national strategy that addresses the environmental, climate change and oil and gas development potential in the Arctic Region.

The “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” includes three policy aims: 1) advancing United States security interests (including the development of sizable proved and potential oil and gas resources); 2) protecting the Arctic environment and conserve Arctic natural resources; and 3) fostering cooperation of the Arctic Council, which includes the United States, Canada, Denmark (Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

“The United States is establishing an overarching national approach to advance national security interests, pursue responsible stewardship of this precious and unique region, and serve as a basis for cooperation with other Arctic states,”according to the Obama administration’s strategy.

The effects of climate change, which the president has made a priority in his second term, “are already apparent in the Arctic,” it noted. “Ocean resources are more readily accessible as sea ice diminishes, but thawing ground is threatening communities as well as hindering land-based activities, including access to resources. Diminishing land and sea ice is altering ecosystems and the services they provide.”

The current warming trend “is unlike anything previously recorded,” the Obama administration said. “The reduction in sea ice has been dramatic, abrupt and unrelenting. The dense, multi-year ice is giving way to think layers of seasonal ice, making more of the region navigable year-round.

“Scientific estimates of technically recoverable conventional oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle total approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas deposits…These estimates have inspired fresh ideas for commercial initiatives and infrastructure development in the region,” the strategy said.

Opening and rapid development of the Arctic region presents very real challenges, according to the strategy. “On the environmental front, reduced sea ice is having an immediate impact on indigenous populations as well as on fish and wildlife. Moreover, there may be potentially profound environmental consequences of continued ocean warming and Arctic ice melt,” it noted.

“The melting of Arctic ice has the potential to transform global climate and ecosystems as well as global shipping, energy markets and other commercial interests.”

Administration officials said they will host roundtable discussions in Alaska in the coming weeks to to address some of the challenges laid out in the national strategy.

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