The official testimony will end up in Washington, D.C. to help lawmakers decide what to do next.
“Why do we care more about the Arctic today than a decade ago? Simply stated, because there is water where there used to be ice-- lots of water,” said Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin with the U.S. Coast Guard.
More water means increased human activity.
Last year for the first time, cargo vessels sailed over Russia and cruise ships passed north of Canada.
“I fear in the not-too-distant future a large ship might sink along the northern coast of Alaska. The Coast Guard will be hard-pressed to rescue survivors and we'll be hard pressed to oversee the cleanup of any associated oil spill,” Colvin said.
The Coast Guard has no permanent presence in the Arctic. The nearest assets are more than 1,000 miles away in Kodiak.
Two of their polar icebreakers are out of service, and it likely will be a few years before one of them is repaired.
“I believe the Arctic Ocean is screaming for greater understanding and without understanding it how can we understand the changes?” said Richard Glenn with the Arctic Slope Regional Corp.
After the field hearing in Barrow, Begich and Stabenow flew east, to the nearby Alpine Oil Field owned by ConocoPhillips.
The company wants to show lawmakers the importance of onshore developments now that offshore drilling is on hold by order of the president after the Gulf of Mexico spill.
ConocoPhillips says Alpine production is on a fairly quick decline and they're trying to add additional fields, but were recently denied a federal permit to build a bridge to deposits over the nearby Colville River.
The trip highlights a fundamental challenge for lawmakers: balancing the needs of industry with the concerns of Arctic residents and the realities of regulation in Washington, D.C.
“The one common thread we heard was more research is necessary, and I think there’s a lot of people who understand the balance that we live in,” Begich said.
Some people might see the Arctic as a victim of global warming, but residents have long been observing and adjusting to their environment, because in many ways their culture is built on change.
The two senators continued their field hearing Friday with a trip to Newtok and Toksook Bay, where they saw erosion and the need for affordable energy.
Contact Ted Land at email@example.com