New NRDC Report Shows Arctic Oil Development Needs to be Put on Hold

August 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

With the Department of the Interior considering whether to grant Shell permits to drill in America’s Arctic Ocean, and Shell scrambling to get started amid a flurry of problems, a new NRDC report details the huge risks that come with the rush toward oil and gas development off of Alaska’s North Slope.

The findings are eye-opening for anybody who has listened to Big Oil’s laissez-faire approach to drilling in one of the world’s last truly pristine and wild places.

The author of the report is Jeff Goodyear, Ph.D., an accomplished oceanographer and marine ecologist with over twenty-five years of experience contributing to new scientific discoveries, who has led field research projects in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic. This report combines his expertise with interviews of local residents, scientists and officials. To read the full report, click here. Some highlights:

  • Alaska’s North Slope lacks the infrastructure to support any significant spill cleanup. Essentially, there are no roads, few airports, no deep-water ports and the nearest Coast Guard base is 1,000 miles away.
  • The likelihood of spills in the Arctic is high – too high. In fact, the report shows, on average there has been a spill of oil or associated chemicals once a day since oil and gas development began on the North Slope.
  • Shell’s claims about its capabilities to clean up an oil spill in icy water are overblown. Traditional means of recovery and clean up—booms and skimmers, in-situ burning, and chemical dispersants—have each been shown to be dramatically less effective in conditions typical of the Arctic than in calmer, warmer waters such as those in the Gulf of Mexico. Given these factors, effectively responding to an oil spill would be nearly impossible.

The release of this report could not be more timely—the final drill permits have not yet been issued and last week Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced he would “hold [Shell’s] feet to the fire in terms of making sure that we are doing everything we can to abide by the standards and regulations that we have set and make sure the environment in the Arctic seas are protected.”

Peter E. Slaiby, Shell’s vice president in charge of Alaskan operations, responded, “We absolutely expect to drill this year.” Shell is chomping at the bit to begin drilling in the final weeks of the already short window of relief from ocean ice. However, the Arctic Challenger, a major component of Shell’s oil spill response plan, is undergoing a major retrofit in a shipyard near Seattle and is not yet certified by the Coast Guard. Raising additional concerns over Shell’s preparedness to safely and responsibly operate in the harsh, unpredictable conditions of the Arctic Ocean is the incident last month when the Noble Discoverer (a 1960’s log ship converted into a drill ship in the 1970’s) slipped anchor while in harbor.

Shell is acting as if drilling this summer is a done deal, as if final approval has been granted. It has not. And Shell is not ready to begin drilling in Arctic waters. The administration must absolutely hold Shell to its commitments. Secretary Salazar must stand by his words, “It’s a necessity for Shell to be able to demonstrate that they have met regulatory requirements…if they are not met, there won’t be Shell exploration efforts that will occur this year.”

America’s Arctic Ocean is too precious to wager on hasty oil and gas development. The risks involved, as the report shows, warrant postponing offshore drilling in the Arctic until comprehensive research can be completed and a proven and thoroughly effective system for responding to spills is in place.

The administration needs to hold Shell’s feet to the fire.

Clint Kincaid aided Chuck Clusen with this post.

Article source: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/cclusen/new_nrdc_report_shows_arctic_o.html

As the Arctic Ocean Melts

December 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Global Warming

22 Dec 2010: Interview

With the Arctic Ocean heading toward a largely ice-free state in summer, scientists are looking for areas that may help preserve ice-dependent creatures. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, geologist Stephanie Pfirman talks about the need for a refuge north of Canada and Greenland that researchers say could be a kind of Noahs Ark in the age of global warming.

As scientists from around the world tracked the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice in recent years, they couldnt help but notice that one part of the Arctic basin is a repository for the oldest and thickest polar ice. Stetching across northern Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, this band of reasonably sturdy ice forms as prevailing wind and ocean currents drive sea ice from Siberia, across the Arctic, and up against the opposite shore.

Stephanie PfirmanStephanie Pfirman

Leading Arctic sea ice specialists believe that this strip of ice could become a crucial ice refuge as summer sea ice all but disappears in most other parts of the Arctic by mid- to late-century. One of those researchers is Stephanie Pfirman, co-chair of the Environmental Science Department at Barnard College in New York City, who, along with several colleagues, presented the concept of the Arctic sea ice refuge at the recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Pfirman described how the refuge could become a key habitat for polar bears, ringed seals, and other ice-dependent Arctic creatures. While these species are likely to suffer major population declines in other parts of the Arctic, the ice refuge zone could harbor substantial numbers of these creatures until the end of the 21st century and, possibly, beyond.

The good news, says Pfirman, is that if humanity begins to significantly reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, the ice refuges could preserve Arctic species and enable them to repopulate the region if ice levels recover in the future.

Yale Environment 360: Can you tell me where the concept of the Arctic sea ice refuge came from?

Stephanie Pfirman: With the summer sea ice projected to decline, the more we looked at the models, the more we realized that in the latter half of this century most models project that there will still be some ice. And so that got us thinking. Where will that ice be? And where would it come from? The observations show that right now the oldest ice is right up along the northern flank of Canada and Greenland. The oldest ice has been there for a long time, and we know that from our analysis of the way the ice moves. And it makes sense that its there because the winds come from Siberia. They blow across the Arctic, and the Russian currents do, too, and it basically piles up ice in northern Canada and Greenland. So in the future, as you continue to freeze the ocean during the wintertime, the winds will blow that winter ice over toward Canada and Greenland. So its likely that youll continue to have ice there even when you have less and less ice in the summertime.

Then we looked at the model projections and they were showing the same thing. So theres a real scientific consensus saying that this is likely to be the place thats going to have the most persistent ice into the future. So then once you know that, then you say, well, what does that mean?

e360: I want to get into the details of this so-called refuge, but could you first describe the rate of melting, both in terms of extent and thickness, that is driving the necessity to even think about having an ice refuge?

Pfirman: When I first started working on ice up in the Arctic back in 1980 or so, ice tended to be in equilibrium and was around three meters thick. Thats at least twice as thick as it is now.

e360: Throughout the Arctic basin?

Pfirman: Yes, but even more so in this [refuge] area. When you ridge the ice, when you deform it, you pile it up and then you have much, much thicker ice. Ice would form and then it would get transported in this big gyre, the Beaufort Gyre, kind of like a whirlpool, to the one side of the Arctic. And the ice just circulates around and around in that area and can stay there for over a decade.Then on the other side theres the Transpolar Drift Stream that goes from the middle of Siberia, sweeps all the way across and over the North Pole. So you had these two systems and right in the middle of the two is kind of this dead zone where the ice is very slow and sluggish and its up against the Canadian Arctic archipelago and Greenland. And thats the likely place of the refuge.

e360: And one of your colleagues said that based on the rate of melt and the continued pouring of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, that in the 2030s and 2040s you could see a really precipitous drop of Arctic sea ice?

Pfirman: Yes. So the [steep] drop that we saw in 2007, something like that had actually been projected by Marika Holland, Cecilia Bitz, and Bruno Tremblay, who had done some work earlier where they had said that theres no reason why, with the warming that were having, the decline of ice has to happen gradually. It could happen precipitously. And those are

A new study says if we do act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then it looks like the sea ice can come back.

called rapid ice loss events. They were analyzing a lot of models and they said, you know, there is potential for this to happen and it could result in much diminished ice cover. Theres a really neat new study that just came out [in Nature], which shows that if we do act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then it looks like the sea ice can come back. Its kind of a bookend on our refuge analysis, because what were saying is, if we dont act, whats the base case? Where is the most persistent ice likely to be? What are the sources of it? But what they did was they said,

Article source: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/as_the_arctic_ocean_melts_can_refuge_save_polar_bears/2355/