Ocean Currents » Stan Senner http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Alaska Interagency Working Group: “Whole of Government” Integrated Arctic Management is in Everyone’s Best Interest http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/05/alaska-interagency-working-group-whole-of-government-integrated-arctic-management-is-in-everyones-best-interest/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/05/alaska-interagency-working-group-whole-of-government-integrated-arctic-management-is-in-everyones-best-interest/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 14:51:08 +0000 Stan Senner http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5342

Credit: Laura L. Whitehouse FWS

America’s Arctic is an extraordinary place, and it has fired my imagination since I first conducted field research in coastal northwest Alaska in 1977. Although indigenous people have occupied and influenced Alaska’s coast for millennia, the Arctic coastal and marine ecosystem is still wild, pristine and productive. There is still largely a full complement of native fish and wildlife that not only persist, but thrive in the Arctic alongside human communities with vibrant cultures.

Since the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 however, our attempts to access this energy have transformed the landscape of the central Arctic and prompted many changes for the people who live and work, study and recreate in the region. And the pace of change is only accelerating.

Decisions about whether, where and when to drill for more oil and gas are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg—which, not incidentally, is now melting–and increased vessel traffic, tourism, mining and road-building are all on the horizon. All of these changes are occurring in a naturally variable ecosystem, which is now reeling from the effects of an increasingly acidic ocean and a warming climate.

A fundamental problem here is that critical decisions are made in isolation by dozens of different agencies on at least at three levels of government without regard to the cumulative impacts of those decisions across the region. There is no long-term view of what the Arctic should look like 50 years from now, or what is required to sustain a productive ecosystem. Unfortunately, the impacts of decisions made in isolation tend to accumulate and multiply while the Arctic is not so slowly transformed before our eyes. Enter Integrated Arctic Management (IAM).

In 2011, President Obama established the Alaska Interagency Working Group, aimed at analyzing energy development and permitting in the state. Under the leadership of Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes, this working group has been exploring what IAM might look like in the Arctic, and an initial report has now been delivered to the president.

It will take time to delve into the report’s details and recommendations, but the concept of integrated management is the right one. Coordinating decision making among all levels of government, and more effectively engaging communities, partners and stakeholders to make decisions based on sound science and a vision for the future is just common sense. Furthermore, the IAM approach of deciding in advance where the most environmentally sensitive areas are in order to protect, monitor and manage them appropriately makes far more sense than waiting until the ecosystem is fragmented and degraded.

No single report from the Interagency Working Group is going to transform decision making or the Arctic, but my hope is that the seeds of a different approach are contained here. My colleagues and I at Ocean Conservancy will be reading this report with great interest and working to implement recommendations that advance integrated decision making in the Arctic. We know that the old piecemeal approach doesn’t work. It should be in the best interests of all concerned—industry, government, residents, and the public—to try something new.

 

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Too Close for Comfort–Map Shows Sensitive Areas Near Latest Tragic Gulf Rig Blast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/21/too-close-for-comfort-map-shows-sensitive-areas-near-latest-tragic-gulf-rig-blast/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/21/too-close-for-comfort-map-shows-sensitive-areas-near-latest-tragic-gulf-rig-blast/#comments Wed, 21 Nov 2012 17:45:36 +0000 Stan Senner http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3597

Ocean Conservancy Map of important ecological areas near the recent rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico

Less than 24 hours after the US Government announced historic criminal fines for BP’s activities leading up to and following the BP oil disaster, an explosion on a production platform about 25 miles south of Grand Isle, LA left several workers injured, one man dead and another missing. The owner of the rig, Black Elk Energy, announced today that they were calling off the search for the missing worker.

This tragic event is a somber reminder that accidents can and do happen despite our best efforts to prevent them. Whether in the Gulf of Mexico or the Chukchi Sea (off Alaska’s Arctic coast), fossil fuel extraction carries risks to the workers as well as to sensitive environmental resources.

When an event like the explosion on the Black Elk rig occurs, it is natural and appropriate  to focus first on the well-being of those involved in a tragedy and then on the recovery and restoration of our natural resources, but it is critical to remember that we must also ensure that we are better prepared for the accidents and disasters that will inevitably occur.

In the wake of the BP oil disaster in 2010, President Barack Obama established the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Commission’s task was to identify the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and to make recommendations to guard against, and mitigate the impact of, any oil spills associated with offshore drilling in the future. You can read the report here.

The Commission delivered the report in January of 2011, and made a series of recommendations to improve oil spill response planning, as well as safety recommendations, and suggested policy and funding changes.

Not satisfied with issuing a report that collects dust on a shelf, several members of the Commission went on to form a group known as Oil Spill Commission ACTION. This group issued a report card in April of 2012 that graded the oil and gas industry, regulators and elected officials on their progress towards implementing the recommendations of the commission.  Grades ranged from a B for “Improving Safety and Environmental Protections” to a D for Congress for failing to provide adequate resources.

When incidents like rig explosions occur, the government and the regulated entity (like BP or Black Elk Energy) use pre-existing response plans to address the threat and mitigate damage. Every coastal area also has what is known as an Area Contingency Plan (or ACP), which is developed by a wide-range of agencies like the US Coast Guard and local officials. One of the critical pieces of the ACP is the identification of environmentally sensitive areas and a plan for how to protect them. As you can see from the map created by Matt Love, a conservation biologist at Ocean Conservancy, the area surrounding the Black Elk Energy rig has many important ecological values, including providing important habitat for developing menhaden eggs and larvae.

We must not lose sight of how oil and gas companies, regulatory agencies and legislators are progressing with implementation of the recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission. We must also track their efforts to identify and protect environmentally sensitive areas, whether in the Gulf or in the Arctic. Accidents are going to happen, but we can work to reduce the risk of disasters if we commit to preparing for them instead of always betting that we can avoid a worst-case scenario.

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