On Feb. 24, 2015, when Adm. Paul Zukunft, 25th commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, delivered his first State of the Coast Guard Address, he described a plan for building and maintaining a service capable of meeting today’s mission requirements, while preparing for a host of new and emerging responsibilities that will test the service’s people and resources.
“Today, we’re seeing significant increase in demand across all of our daily activities, and it limits our ability to respond to major contingencies,” Zukunft said. “Indeed, we are facing a time like none other in our 225 years of service.”
As if to highlight the uncertainties surrounding these new circumstances, the commandant posed them as questions:
“When is the last time we’ve encountered a new ocean? We are seeing it today in the Arctic.
“When is the last time that much of Central America was on the cusp of instability? Unstable because of unchecked transnational organized crime, fueled by drug demand in the U.S. and drug cartels whose greatest fiscal challenge is laundering bulk cash from ill-gotten gains.
“When is the last time the U.S. led the world in oil and gas production and transported much of it by sea?
“What domain has ever affected industry or government like cyber?”
Zukunft was more declarative, however, about how this confluence of events would affect the Coast Guard. Together, he said, they would be as momentous as the Exxon Valdez spill or 9/11 had been in transforming the service. “Today, we’re seeing significant increase in demand across all of our daily activities, and it limits our ability to respond to major contingencies,” he said. “Indeed, we are facing a time like none other in our 225 years of service.”
America’s “Black Gold Rush”
Over the past several years, due largely to technologies enabling access to previously unrecoverable oil and natural gas, the U.S. energy industry has undergone an unprecedented boom. Last year, for the first time since 1994, U.S. oil production exceeded its imports. The United States, seemingly overnight, has become the world’s largest producer of natural gas and crude oil, and the industry estimates that domestic energy production will exceed consumption by 2020.
All that energy isn’t moving itself. A growing percentage of that production was moved on the nation’s maritime transportation system (MTS), which contributes $650 billion annually to U.S. gross domestic product and supports more than 13 million jobs. From 2008 to 2013, the amount of crude oil moved by barge to Gulf Coast refineries increased more than tenfold, from 3.9 million to 46.7 million barrels – a spike that has led to a boom in the construction of new tank barges and vessels. In 2013, a new U.S. tank barge, inspected and certified, was launched into the MTS every day.