Ocean Currents » Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 03 Jul 2015 18:30:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 NOAA Says Shell Drilling Would Impact Thousands of Marine Mammals http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/11/noaa-says-shell-drilling-would-impact-thousands-of-marine-mammals/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/11/noaa-says-shell-drilling-would-impact-thousands-of-marine-mammals/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 19:28:33 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9986

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.


Arctic whales and seals are already feeling the effects of climate change and the rapid loss of summer sea ice; the impacts associated with Shell’s proposed drilling activities would only add to their stress. Drilling activities also present the risk of a catastrophic oil spill, and extreme conditions like changing sea ice, fog, and high winds make meaningful cleanup all but impossible in the Arctic Ocean. A disaster like the Deepwater Horizon in the Chukchi Sea would devastate marine wildlife and jeopardize food security in Alaska Native communities.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will soon decide whether to approve Shell’s proposals to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer. Join us in taking a stand against reckless drilling: Tell the Secretary of the Interior to say “no” to Shell. Sign our petition, today.

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Breaking Arctic News http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:00:26 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9767

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.

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Shell’s Kulluk Disaster Featured in New York Times Sunday Magazine http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/02/shells-kulluk-disaster-featured-in-new-york-times-sunday-magazine/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/02/shells-kulluk-disaster-featured-in-new-york-times-sunday-magazine/#comments Fri, 02 Jan 2015 15:19:09 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9668

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.

The Sunday Magazine story tells a gripping tale, especially if you like accounts of drama on the sea. Aside from being a good read, the story makes clear that Shell and its contractors easily could have avoided the disaster. Before leaving port, the tug’s tow master predicted that Kulluk’s planned route “guarantees an ass kicking.” Warnings signs don’t get much clearer than that. But the tow master’s caution, like many other warning signs—was ignored.

I wrote about Shell’s multiple mistakes and its failure to recognize risk in this blog post, which was published soon after the Coast Guard released a report on its investigation into the Kulluk incident. Another  Coast Guard investigation led to the recent announcement that Shell contractor Noble Drilling would plead guilty to eight felony charges and pay more than $12 million in fines relating to violations onboard Shell’s other Arctic drillship, the Noble Discoverer.

Unfortunately, Shell wants to return to the Arctic this coming summer. The oil giant has submitted plans to bring the Noble Discoverer and another drillship to the Chukchi Sea this year. That could spell double trouble for the Arctic. Tell the Secretary of the Interior to say “no” to Shell’s risky drilling plans. Please sign our petition today.

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BOEM Report: 75% Chance of Spill in Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/02/boem-report-75-chance-of-spill-in-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/02/boem-report-75-chance-of-spill-in-arctic/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 13:00:43 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9560 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.

But there was a major problem. In 2010, a federal court found that the environmental analysis underpinning Lease Sale 193 was unlawful; the court required the government to revise its analysis and reconsider the sale. Unfortunately, the government failed to fix all the problems and in January of 2014, another federal court ruled that the revised environmental analysis was faulty. In response, the government announced that it would prepare yet another revision and once again reconsider the sale of the leases.

All of which brings us to the end of October, when BOEM released its third major environmental analysis of the 2008 lease sale: the Draft Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Lease Sale 193.

Beyond the 75% chance of one or more large spills, as we’ve described before, there is no way to effectively clean up a large oil spill in Arctic waters. Constantly changing sea ice, fog, high winds, extreme cold, remoteness and lack of shoreline infrastructure all combine to make meaningful cleanup all but impossible. And after Shell’s error-riddled 2012 drilling season, it is clear that we cannot trust oil companies to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean is risky business. BOEM’s latest environmental analysis demonstrates that the consequences of a mistake are enormous. Join with Ocean Conservancy in telling BOEM to protect the Arctic Ocean by saying no to drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/the-9th-circuit-of-appeals-rules-in-favor-of-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/the-9th-circuit-of-appeals-rules-in-favor-of-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 19:30:42 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9515

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.

We felt strongly that Shell’s unconventional preemptive lawsuits were improper under the law. And we were concerned that Shell’s lawsuits were an attempt to intimidate nonprofit organizations and discourage them from opposing risky Arctic drilling. As a result, we and the other organizations moved to dismiss Shell’s preemptive lawsuits.

And this past Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us.

The dismissal of Shell’s preemptive lawsuit sends a strong signal to Shell and other oil and gas companies:  Intimidation will not work and conservation organizations have a right to question and challenge federal permits that authorize risky Arctic drilling. Arctic wildlife and people who live in coastal communities in the Arctic depend on a clean and healthy ocean. We won’t stand by while Shell puts them all in danger, even if it means having to go to the courts to defend our—and all U.S. citizens’ —rights to ensure that our Arctic resources are protected.

And make no mistake, Shell’s proposals to drill in the Arctic Ocean pose a significant threat. In fact, a new federal analysis determined that there is a 75% chance of a large oil spill if oil and gas development and production goes forward in the offshore Arctic. A large spill could be catastrophic for the wildlife and the people who depend on the Arctic ocean—and cleaning up a spill would be all but impossible given the remoteness of the region, sea ice, severe weather, and lack of infrastructure.

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Tell the Department of Interior to Protect Walruses http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/10/tell-the-department-of-interior-to-protect-walruses/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/10/tell-the-department-of-interior-to-protect-walruses/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 12:00:11 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9332

When I first saw the photo above, I couldn’t believe it was real.

Those are 35,000 walruses – packed together onshore in Alaska.

If you’re saying to yourself “that doesn’t look normal,” you’re right. Packs like this were unheard of before 2007.

The sea ice walruses usually rest on is disappearing, forcing them to come all the way to shore between feedings. These changes to sea ice are putting walruses at great risk.

Now, Shell has proposed a plan to drill for oil in the waters where walruses live, feed, and raise their young. Risky Arctic drilling will cause even more stress for the walruses that are already struggling to cope with the loss of sea ice. We need to stop Shell’s plan.

Click here to tell the Department of Interior to protect the walrus’s home. Say no to risky Arctic drilling.

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This is How We Can Make Shipping Safer in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 21:30:33 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9289

The Bering Strait is the only marine connection between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean to the north and the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean to the south. Just 55 miles wide, the Strait separates Alaska to the east and Russia to the west.

The Bering Strait is a biological hotspot. Millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals use the Strait as a migratory corridor, and the Bering and Chukchi Seas are one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world.

But we’ve also noted that vessel traffic through the Bering Strait is growing. Earlier this year, an American company revealed plans to sail a luxury cruise ship from Seward, Alaska to New York City in 2016, using the fabled Northwest Passage. More recently, a Canadian company announced its intent to ship a cargo of nickel concentrate from northern Canada to China, also via the Northwest Passage. In addition to increasing interest in using the Northwest Passage north of Canada, traffic on the Northern Sea Route north of Russia is growing.

As vessel traffic increases, so too does the potential for adverse environmental impacts to the Bering Strait region. These impacts could include more pollution, ship strikes on marine mammals, and oil spills, among others. Growth in vessel traffic could also have adverse effects on the indigenous peoples; ship traffic could swamp their small boats, displace the animals they hunt, or cause waves that disturb archeological sites and culturally important places.

Fortunately, there are solutions that can make shipping safer and reduce the chances of accidents and spills in the Bering Strait region. A new article in the journal Marine Policy outlines some of these solutions, including:

1. Establishment of shipping lanes: Shipping lanes or recommended routes serve to confine vessels to particular pathways in some portions of the ocean. Use of shipping lanes can help to create regular patterns of use and ensure that vessels steer clear of potential marine hazards.

2. Designation of “Areas to be Avoided”: As the name implies, “Areas to be Avoided” are used to help ensure that vessels stay away from areas of the ocean that may be especially dangerous or vulnerable to disturbance. “Precautionary Areas” can also be used to alert mariners to areas that require special caution.

3. Imposition of speed restrictions: In some situations, slowing down can reduce the risk of ship strikes and decrease noise that may adversely affect marine mammals, especially in constricted areas.

4. Bolstering communications and monitoring: Establishment of routine reporting requirements for vessels transiting the Bering Strait could help keep both local communities and search and rescue officials aware of activity in the region. Use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) could facilitate communication and monitoring, helping to prevent accidents and ensure compliance with regulations.

Other potential safety measures include improved charting for Arctic waters (many of which have not been charted to modern standards); more rigorous voyage planning; and pre-placement of equipment and rescue tugs that would enable quicker response to accidents.

These safety measures may be put in place in a variety of ways, ranging from voluntary adoption by industry, creation of regulations by U.S. agencies including the Coast Guard, or through international agreements between nations or under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization.

There is no “silver bullet” that can eliminate the threats posed by growing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait, but if sensible regulations and mitigation measures are put in place now, they will go a long way toward increasing shipping safety and reducing potential environmental impacts.

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