Ocean Currents

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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy


About Andrew Hartsig

Andrew Hartsig is the director of Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic Program. He lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska. In a bid to put off taking the bar exam after law school, he paddled a sea kayak from Bellingham, Washington to Juneau, Alaska in the summer of 2005. [Ed. note: Fortunately, he made it back safely and passed with flying colors.]

State of the Arctic: An Update on Drilling

Posted On October 22, 2015 by

The past few weeks have delivered a lot of good news to those of us who feel that offshore drilling in Arctic waters is too risky and too much of a threat to both the region and the planet’s climate. But, while we have two pieces of good news to share with you, these victories are temporary. We still need to work together on solutions to protect our future from risky offshore drilling.

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Victory in the Arctic: Shell Terminates Drilling Activities in the Chukchi Sea

Posted On September 28, 2015 by

Early on Monday morning, Shell announced that it would no longer pursue oil-drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. Shell’s announcement has been a long time coming, and marks a major victory for all those who have opposed Arctic drilling as too risky and too much of a threat to the Arctic ecosystem and the planet’s climate.

Shell purchased its Chukchi Sea leases in 2008, but was precluded from drilling on its leases for many years. Among other things, legal challenges exposed flaws in the government’s environmental analyses and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in a temporary restriction on Arctic drilling. In 2012, Shell finally received the green light to drill in the Chukchi Sea, but the company was woefully unprepared for the challenge: vessels were not ready, spill response equipment failed under testing, equipment spewed air pollution in violation of standards and one of its drill rigs was swept ashore in a storm on the way back to Seattle. In the end, Shell failed to complete a single well in 2012.

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NOAA Says Shell Drilling Would Impact Thousands of Marine Mammals

Posted On March 11, 2015 by

Earlier this year, President Obama took executive action to protect some of the Arctic Ocean’s most significant marine areas from the threats posed by oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately, some areas of the Arctic Ocean were left open to oil companies, and oil giant Shell has been gearing up to make another attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released an analysis that details how Shell’s proposed drilling operations may impact whales and seals. The results? Tens of thousands of of animals may be exposed to noise that could disrupt vital life activities like migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, and sheltering. NOAA’s analysis determined that more than 50,000 seals and more than 6,000 whales–including belugas, bowheads, grays, and humpbacks–could be affected by Shell’s proposed drilling activities.

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Breaking Arctic News

Posted On January 28, 2015 by

Yesterday, President Obama issued permanent protections from future oil and gas drilling for some of the Arctic Ocean’s most significant marine areas. The President’s action is an important and positive step to limit risky drilling, and will help protect the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, including vital walrus habitat at the Hanna Shoal.

At the same time, however, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a draft proposed program that calls for additional oil and gas lease sales in other areas of the Arctic, even though oil companies have not shown they are able to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic. Extreme conditions like changing sea ice, fog, and high winds make meaningful cleanup all but impossible. A disaster like the Deepwater Horizon in the Arctic would devastate marine wildlife and jeopardize food security in Alaska Native communities.

Join us in sending a message to BOEM: No Arctic Ocean drilling.

Stand against reckless drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Tell BOEM not to sell Arctic oil and gas leases in the 2017-2022 program.


Shell’s Kulluk Disaster Featured in New York Times Sunday Magazine

Posted On January 2, 2015 by

Photo: Coast Guard

In late December of 2012, one of Shell Oil’s Arctic drillships, the Kulluk, snapped its tow-line during a powerful storm in the North Pacific. After multiple failed attempts to re-establish a tow, the Coast Guard evacuated the crew of the Kulluk, rescue tugs abandoned their efforts to pull the ship to safety, and the Kulluk grounded on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, Alaska.  The January 4 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine tells the dramatic story of the events that led up to the disaster in an article entitled, The Wreck of the Kulluk.

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BOEM Report: 75% Chance of Spill in Arctic

Posted On December 2, 2014 by

Large ice flows in the Arctic Ocean

Copyright Corbis. All rights reserved.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently released a revised environmental analysis of oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean.

BOEM’s latest analysis leaves no doubt that development and production of the Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases could be devastating to the Arctic marine ecosystem. Perhaps most troubling, a statistical analysis used by BOEM indicates that there is a 75% chance of one or more large spills over the lifetime of Chukchi Sea development and production. BOEM admits that a very large oil spill could result in the death of large numbers of polar bears, bowhead whales, seals, and marine and coastal birds.

The agency is accepting comments until December 22. Join Ocean Conservancy in telling BOEM to say no to risky Arctic drilling.

This environmental analysis and opportunity to comment has been a long time in the making. Almost seven years ago, in February of 2008, the federal government auctioned oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. The auction was known as Lease Sale 193, and it purported to give successful lessees—including Shell—the conditional right to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of the Ocean

Posted On November 14, 2014 by

Photo: Steven Dingeldein

Good news! The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just dismissed a case in which Shell sued Ocean Conservancy and several other conservation and Alaska Native organizations.

That’s right. Shell sued us. And not just once—three times.

Several years ago, federal agencies issued a series of permits that Shell needed to carry out drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean. Shell was worried that conservation organizations like Ocean Conservancy would challenge the validity of those permits, which might hinder its ability to drill. In response, Shell initiated a series of highly unusual preemptive lawsuits, naming Ocean Conservancy and others as defendants and asking the court to declare that the federal permits were lawful in all respects.

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