US Army Corps of Engineers suspends Nome port study
The fallout from Shell’s decision to stop Arctic Alaska offshore exploration has hit Nome.
The Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a yearlong pause of the Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Port System feasibility study Oct. 26 so the project’s economic potential and justification can be revalidated.
In February the Alaska Corps released a draft feasibility report outlining a $210 million plan to dredge Nome’s outer harbor to 28 feet, extend the causeway around the harbor by more than 2,100 feet and build a new large vessel dock.
“The bulk of the benefits used to justify the Port of Nome expansion in the study area are related to travel cost savings for oil and gas support vessels for activities in the Chukchi Sea,” a Corps release states.
Because Shell announced Sept. 28 that it would indefinitely suspend exploratory drilling in the Arctic waters off Alaska the primary need for the port could be gone, too. The study benefits assumed the development of three exploration wells in the Chukchi by 2020.
A study that is not economically justified is typically terminated, according to the Corps. However, the ever-changing nature of the oil and gas industry and a strong general interest for more Arctic marine infrastructure in Alaska has led to simply suspending this study.
An increase in shipping traffic through the Bering Strait in recent years has also been cited as a reason for a larger port in Nome.
In a year, the Corps, the state and the City of Nome will reassess the study and determine whether to proceed, change its scope or go another direction, according to the Corps of Engineers’ release.
Even if the study had moved forward as scheduled, the plan would have needed approval from Corps leadership and funding authorization from Congress — prospects that were likely years away.