Arctic Environmental Protection and Innovative Solutions to Oil Pollution, Prevention, and Response – IVLP

While the Middle East and East Asia are more commonly talked about today, the Arctic represents a new frontier in International Relations, with lesser known yet still very important obstacles to be navigated. Arctic vessel traffic in the Bering Strait was one of the focal points of discussion for a recent delegation with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) from Russia, all of whom work with various maritime, marine, and science organizations. IVLP is a State Department program that fosters mutual understanding between the United States and other nations through the exchange of people and ideas. This particular visit was administered by World Learning, which is a global non-profit that seeks to strengthen global ties within communities through international networking.   

The objective for this specific group of visitors was to explore various approaches to prevent oil spills and to examine oil spill response capability. During their stay in the United States they visited Washington, DC, Portsmouth, NH, New Orleans, LA, Anchorage, AK, Cordova, AK, and Seattle, WA.

In meetings with members of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Seattle, the visitors discussed arctic environmental protection as a whole, but were specifically interested in the safety measures, or lack of safety precautions, within in the United States to prevent oil spills. They were also interested in the lesson learned from Deepwater Horizon. Previously, while in Louisiana, the visitors participated in a case study with the United States Coast Guard on the BP Deepwater Horizon, which was an ultra-deepwater, offshore oil drilling rig situated within the Gulf of Mexico. On April 20, 2010, the rig exploded, eventually sank, and created the largest oil spill within United States waters to date.  

The visitors wanted to learn more about best practices for containing and preventing spillage of hazardous material, particularly in the Arctic. But oil and gas spills are not the only potential danger to Arctic waters, as Russia also has numerous nuclear-powered icebreakers in the region. In fact, Russia is the only country in the world to have a nuclear icebreaker fleet. The United States currently has one functioning icebreaker, the Polar Star, which was built in the 1970s and is now nearing the end of its operational effectiveness. For comparison, China, which is not a member of the Arctic Council, just launched their second icebreaker, Haibing 722, on January 5th, 2016.  

Before returning to Russia, the visitors concluded their stay in the United States with a cultural weekend in New York City. Upon their return to Russia, they will work towards refining and implementing what they have learned with their own respective organizations. The World Affairs Council looks forward to hearing more about their success and efforts! 

Russian Icebreaker - obtained from

Russian Icebreaker – obtained from


By Yale Warner. International Visitor Program Intern and

High School Senior at Seattle Academy