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

August 23, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills, Uncategorized

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

Endangered species’ top 10 list: Save these ecosystems

January 6, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, yesterday released a new report that identifies vital habitats in need of protection, if key endangered species are to have a chance to survive climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world’s species will be at increased risk of extinction if global temperature increases exceed 1.5 to 2.5 C (3 to 5 F) above pre-industrial levels. The climate threats to species include increased disease, diminished reproduction, habitat loss, and declining food supply.

For species that are already struggling on the brink of extinction, global climate change threatens to push them over the edge, said Huta. We certainly need to reduce global warming pollution, but we also need to act now to prioritize and protect some of the most important ecosystems for imperiled wildlife. Endangered species don’t have the luxury of waiting for political leaders to act to slow the pace of climate change.

List of top 10 ecosystems to save for endangered species featured in the report:

1. Arctic sea ice, home to the polar bear, Pacific walrus and at least six species of seal

2. Shallow water coral reefs, home to the critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn corals

3. The Hawaiian Islands, home to more than a dozen imperiled birds, and 319 threatened and endangered plants

4. Southwest deserts, home to numerous imperiled plants, fish and mammals

5. The San Francisco Bay-Delta, home to the imperiled Pacific salmon, Swainsons hawk, tiger salamander and Delta smelt

6. California Sierra Mountains, home to 30 native amphibian species, including the Yellow-legged frog

7. The Snake River Basin, home to four imperiled runs of salmon and steelhead

8. Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to the imperiled Whitebark pine, an important food source for the threatened Grizzly bear and other animals

9. The Gulf Coasts flatlands and wetlands, home to the Piping and Snowy plovers, Mississippi sandhill crane, and numerous species of sea turtles

10. The Greater Everglades, home to 67 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee and the red cockcaded woodpecker

Climate change is no longer a distant threat on the horizon, said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. It has arrived and is threatening ecosystems that we all depend upon, and our endangered species are particularly vulnerable.

Seven additional ecosystems were nominated but did not make the Top 10. They nonetheless contain important habitat for imperiled species. These ecosystems include Glacier National Park, the Jemez Mountains, Sagebrush Steppe, U.S. West Coast, the Maine Woods, the Grasslands of the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains.

The new report, which includes information about each ecosystem, as well as recommended conservation measures, is available online at www.StopExtinction.org.

Scientists ranked Arctic sea ice and shallow water corals as two of the highest priority ecosystems threatened by climate change in an Endangered Species Coalition report demonstrating the urgency of saving habitat for endangered species. The report, entitled Its Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World was released January 5th, and examines how the changing climate is increasing extinction risk for imperiled fish, plants and wildlife.

Have your say: Is the reality of climate change still in question?

Article source: http://www.examiner.com/green-living-in-national/endangered-species-top-10-list-save-these-ecosystems

Melting sea ice blamed for UK Arctic weather

December 25, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Global Warming

Scientists are claiming melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is the cause of the bitter polar weather causing chaos across Europe.

Recent meteorological reports claim a high pressure area over the Atlantic resulting in the repositioning of the jet stream combined with the influence of La Nina are responsible for the current bleak midwinter. Scientists in Germany, however, are forming a complementary theory, with climate experts at the Potsdam Institute suggesting melting sea ice could be the cause.

The institutes Vladimir Petoukov believes the big freeze is a result of global warming causing sea ice in the Arctic to melt, changing wind patterns across the northern hemisphere and bringing icy blasts of freezing air across the UK. He expects the trend to continue, with Britain shivering in the grip of longer and colder winters.

Petoukov states the disappearing sea ice will have an unpredictable effect on the climate in the northern hemisphere due to a complex and powerful feedback mechanism detected in the Barents-Kara Sea. He adds that colder winters are not disproving the global warming theory, but are supplementing it.

The Arctics floating ice cover is though to have diminished by around 20 per cent in recent years, with temperatures rising at up to three times the global average. As the ice melts, the comparatively warm sea water loses its heat to the atmosphere, causing an area of high pressure to form. This creates clockwise Arctic winds which sweep southwards over northern Europe and the UK.

Although the climate research institute states its too early to link the last two years bitter winters to changes in the Arctic, it believes the theory resulting from the research is strong. and predicts freezing winters will continue for around 50 years, after which warmer winter conditions will develop.

Article source: http://news.carrentals.co.uk/melting-sea-ice-blamed-for-uk-arctic-weather-34230354.html

As the Arctic Ocean Melts

December 22, 2010 by admin  
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/

Sea levels set to rise faster than expected

November 27, 2008 by admin  
Filed under Featured, Global Warming

Geneva, Switzerland: Even warming of less than 2°C might be enough to trigger the loss of Arctic sea ice and the meltdown of the Greenland Ice Sheet, causing global sea levels to rise by several metres.

Ahead of next week’s meeting of governments in Poznan, Poland for UN climate talks WWF analysis of the latest climate science comes to the dire conclusion that humanity is approaching the last chance to keep global warming below the danger threshold of 2°C.

”The latest science confirms that we are now seeing devastating consequences of warming that were not expected to hit for decades,” said Kim Carstensen, WWF Global Climate Initiative leader.

“The early meltdown of ice in the Arctic and Greenland may soon prompt further dangerous climate feedbacks, accelerating warming faster and stronger than forecast.

“Responsible politicians cannot dare to waste another second on delaying tactics in the face of these urgent warnings from nature.

“The planet is now facing a new quality of change, increasingly difficult to adapt to and soon impossible to reverse.

“Governments in Poznan must agree to peak and decline global emissions well before 2020 to give people reasonable hope that global warming can still be kept within limits that prevent the worst.

“In addition to constructive discussions in Poznan we need to see signals for immediate action.”

The CO2 storage capacity of oceans and land surface – the Earth’s natural sinks – has been decreasing by 5 per cent over the last 50 years. At the same time, manmade CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have been increasing – four times faster in this decade than in the previous decade.

WWF is urging governments to use the Poznan talks for an immediate U-turn away from the fatal direction the world is heading in.

“We are at the point where our climate system is starting to spin out of control,” said Carstensen. “A single year is left to agree a new global treaty that can protect the climate, but the UN talks next year in Copenhagen can only deliver this treaty if the meeting in Poznan this year develops a strong negotiation text.”

Article copyright WWF