There are reports that indicate that numerous small deposits and of natural gas may exist in the frigid northern regions. The duration over which these deposits could be depleted may vary from several months to a few years while the distance to the major deposits may not justify the cost of building interconnecting long-distance pipelines. It may actually be more feasible to build very short pipelines to nearby northern coastal locations where oil or gas (in the form of LNG) could be transferred into bulk carriers and transported to ports along the American West Coast.
The bulk carriers that may provide services to the oil and gas industry via the Beaufort Sea would need to be double-hulled vessels. They may be preceded on their northern journeys by a small fleet of specialized icebreaker ships that would sail ahead and to clear a path through the northern ice packs. Global warming could reduce the thickness of the northern ice packs to the point where such shipping operations could be undertaken throughout the year. One alternative would be for the double-hulled bulk carriers to be operated into the southern Beaufort Sea only during the summer months and to transport oil and LNG to storage facilities in the Southern States. A third option could involve incorporating icebreaker technology into double-hulled bulk carriers that could operate in the northern waters for most of the year.
The bulk carriers that may sail the icy northern waters would be able to access the resources that lie off the coast of Northern Alaska as well as off the northwestern coast of Canada between Herschel and Amundson Gulf. The latter option may become available as a result of environmental concerns and related opposition to building a Northern Canadian natural gas pipeline across the Yukon Territory and into the Arctic region of Northwestern Canada. The construction of that pipeline may therefore be delayed for several years. Advances in shipping technology may be able to offer a viable alternative in regard to the bulk transportation of LNG from this region.
American ship designer Norman Nixon (of the Freedom Ship Group) proposed an ocean going ship that would be built on the principle of a giant barge and have a length of over 4,000-feet. His concept could be modified into double-hulled LNG carrier of the same length and built to a width of 250-ft. It could carry LNG from the Arctic regions of Alaska and Canada to either ports on the West Coast of America or possibly to a Mexican port. The pace of global warming in the Beaufort Sea would determine the thickness of the ice in that sea and in turn determine as to whether giant double-hulled LNG carriers that sail into those waters would need to be built to incorporate icebreaker technology.
There is the possibility that Nixon's giant concept ship design could be modified to form the basis of successful giant LNG carrier that in turn could form the basis upon which to develop a giant oil tanker of equivalent size. The possible development of such a ship would be many years in the future and become a cause for concern due to the incident that involved the Exxon Valdez (a single-hulled carrier) several years ago. Advances in shipping navigation such as GPS (global positioning satellite) along with computerized ship control could go far in reducing the risk of a double-hulled giant oil carrier becoming a potential environmental menace.
Advances in bulk ship propulsion can include azipods (steerable electrically powered propellers) that can steer giant ships out of danger far more rapidly that a fixed propeller and a rudder. Azipods can also be installed near the bow of big ships and enable them to break up some of the pack ice that may cause a ship to get stuck when sailing in ice bound northern waters. The Azipods do have limitations that would restrict as to how far north ships using such technology could venture into icy waters. There may be the occasion when a bulk carrier could get itself stuck in the northern ice.
On such an occasion the Azipod may be steered into the opposite direction so to enable the ship to be propelled backwards through the ice bound passage through which it had just sailed. This technology has already been tested and proven on a Russian built oil tanker that was equipped with navigation bridges at both the stern and the bow. Similar technology could be incorporated into the design of giant bulk energy carriers that would be intended to operate into the Beaufort Sea. The main drawback to using such shipping technology is the opposition along the American West Coast to transferring LNG from a giant carrier into a pipeline. That task may have to be undertaken at a Mexican port as a result of opposition to such a terminal being located on the coast of California.