The Blog Aquatic » arctic drilling http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Help Us Say No to Risky Arctic Drilling http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/24/help-us-say-no-to-risky-arctic-drilling/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/24/help-us-say-no-to-risky-arctic-drilling/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:21:51 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8806

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Breaking: The U.S. government is beginning to make plans for future offshore oil and gas operations—and those plans could open Arctic waters to risky drilling.

This follows Shell Oil’s decision to abandon Arctic drilling this summer, after an accident-plagued 2012.

If a disaster like BP Deepwater Horizon happened in the Arctic, spill response would be even more challenging. The Arctic’s sea ice, freezing temperatures, gale force winds, and lack of visibility could make cleanup next to impossible.


The government’s public comment period ends on July 31, so we only have 10 days to respond. We need you to tell the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to say no to risky Arctic drilling now.

Take a stand against oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean. Act now, and tell BOEM not to open additional Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling!

The Arctic Ocean and all those who depend on it are already under stress. The rapidly changing climate, including extreme deterioration of the summer sea ice, is putting Arctic marine animals at risk. Many people who live in coastal communities in the Arctic depend on a clean and healthy ocean to support their subsistence way of life. Offshore drilling for oil and gas would expose this already fragile ecosystem to significant noise, pollution and traffic.

Stand against risky oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean. Tell BOEM not to open additional Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling!

 

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/24/help-us-say-no-to-risky-arctic-drilling/feed/ 0
When It Comes to Arctic Drilling, Cumulative Effects Add Up http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/22/when-it-comes-to-arctic-drilling-cumulative-effects-add-up/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/22/when-it-comes-to-arctic-drilling-cumulative-effects-add-up/#comments Fri, 22 Nov 2013 17:02:42 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6997 Workers in the ArcticPicture five oil rigs in your nearby ocean. These oil rigs are different sizes and operate in different locations and at different times. Each of these rigs has an impact on marine life and water quality, but each to a different degree.

When the individual impacts of each of these rigs accumulate over time and space, it is known as “cumulative effects.” Think of this like a snowball fight. It’s easy to dodge snowballs when you’re up against one other person.  But when five people are throwing snowballs at you, it’s much harder to avoid getting hit. And the more hits you take, the more bruises you’re bound to get.

Cumulative effects recognizes that the impact of an individual action may be relatively minor on its own, but could be much more significant when considered in combination with the effects of other past, present and future actions. Effective assessment of cumulative effects is one of the most challenging issues in resource management.

Arctic food web and oil impactsAs the pace and scope of industrial activity in Arctic Alaska grows, the need to predict and account for the cumulative effects of oil exploration and development and increasing vessel traffic—including infrastructure and operations—becomes more critical. To avoid or minimize environmental degradation caused by industrial activities or accidents such as oil spills, federal agencies need a reliable way to assess the cumulative effects of proposed actions on the surrounding environment.

This is not an easy task, especially when dealing with multiple decisions that affect large areas over long time periods. The rewards, however, are significant: by understanding and considering the long-range impact of multiple activities over a large spatial area, industry, government regulators, communities and stakeholders may be able to better manage oil exploration and development in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean to avoid or minimize environmental harm.

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the agency that manages offshore conventional and renewable energy resources (think offshore oil rigs and wind turbines), has not done a good job of analyzing potential cumulative effects in the Arctic in past environmental reviews.

For example, when assessing the cumulative impacts from an Arctic lease sale, BOEM reasoned that because there were 11 existing offshore projects, the proposed project would contribute approximately one-tenth the cumulative effects of waste water, construction, transportation and oil spills influencing water quality. Here, BOEM divided the number of proposed offshore projects (one) by the total number of offshore projects (11) to assess cumulative impact of oil development activities to water quality (=1/11).

This is a deeply flawed approach. Under this logic, each successive project would be responsible for incrementally less impact. With 100 projects, the new proposed project would only be responsible for 1/100 of the impact—but the cumulative effect of 100 projects would likely be far greater than the impacts of 10 projects. Also, this approach doesn’t account for the scale and location of each offshore facility, which are important factors to assessing harm. Combining all of the offshore projects together into a percentage masks the damages to the surrounding environment from a single offshore facility.

One major stumbling block for BOEM is the lack of a standardized approach and methodology for conducting cumulative effects analysis. BOEM can significantly improve its analysis of cumulative effects by developing and adhering to a standardized approach and methodology to cumulative effects analysis. Development of a transparent, broadly accepted approach and methodology for cumulative effects analysis, with common language and accounting for regional factors, will allow the agency to compare results across different planning areas.

A standardized approach and methodology that considers both positive and negative tradeoffs will provide BOEM with structure and guidance in analyzing cumulative effects. Recognizing the importance of cumulative effects, a governmental working group recommended improved understanding and consideration of the cumulative impacts of human activities in the Arctic.

The future health of sensitive Arctic ecosystem depends upon the use of sound analysis to determine the true impact of industrial activities. And good policies should be grounded in good science and analysis.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/22/when-it-comes-to-arctic-drilling-cumulative-effects-add-up/feed/ 0
Why Now is Not the Time for a New Offshore Lease Sale in the Chukchi Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/30/why-now-is-not-the-time-for-a-new-offshore-lease-sale-in-the-chukchi-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/30/why-now-is-not-the-time-for-a-new-offshore-lease-sale-in-the-chukchi-sea/#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 18:38:22 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6889

Photo: Leigh Elliot / Photo Contest 2011

Just before the government shutdown brought federal agencies to a standstill at the beginning of October, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a “call for information” for a potential new oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of northwest Alaska. A new Chukchi Sea lease sale would allow oil and gas companies to buy additional oil leases in one of the most remote and challenging environments on the planet. The response to the call for information is easy: now is not the time to sell new oil and gas lease sales in the Chukchi Sea.

The last oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea was in 2008. Since that time, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico reminded the world that when things go wrong, offshore drilling can have catastrophic consequences for fish and wildlife, marine and coastal environments, and residents of affected coastal communities. The Deepwater Horizon disaster also triggered new safety and environmental protection requirements for oil and gas companies that wish to drill in Arctic waters.

Two years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Royal Dutch Shell tried its hand at drilling in the Arctic and experienced a whole series of disasters. Among other things, a massive ice floe blocked access to one drilling site for about two weeks, the company’s drilling vessels violated their air emission permits, the drillship Discoverer suffered propulsion problems and had to be towed to port, and the drilling unit Kulluk ran aground off Kodiak Island and had to be salvaged by outside consultants. For all that, Shell failed to complete a single Arctic well.

As Shell’s 2012 drilling campaign unraveled, other oil and gas companies backed away from plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Statoil and ConocoPhillips in particular both announced that they would not consider drilling in the Chukchi Sea until 2015 at the earliest. Shell itself is still not sure when it will make another attempt to drill. In fact, its outgoing CEO recently acknowledged that Shell could abandon its Arctic leases if they prove too risky and expensive.

Shell’s 2012 drilling season also forced government regulators to acknowledge that the existing safeguards are not sufficient. Earlier this year, the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a special report that identified significant shortcomings in Shell’s Arctic drilling effort and imposed new requirements on Shell. DOI also recognized the need for new, region-specific rules to govern offshore drilling off the coast of Alaska. The agency is working to prepare those rules, but they will not be finalized for many months. The U.S. Coast Guard has launched a formal marine casualty investigation related to the grounding of the drillship Kulluk. Findings of that investigation could trigger regulatory or policy changes related to the marine transport aspects of oil exploration in the Arctic.

Both the oil and gas companies and federal regulators are still trying to determine whether and how to proceed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Shell’s failure-plagued Arctic campaign. Given the great uncertainty surrounding oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean at this time, there is simply no reason for BOEM to hold a new oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea.

Instead of trying to sell new offshore leases in a remote and risky offshore environment, BOEM should concentrate its resources on improving the rules that govern offshore drilling in Arctic waters. If BOEM continues to consider a new Chukchi Sea lease sale in 2016, it should use this “call for information” as an opportunity to identify and exclude from the lease sale areas that are especially important for Arctic wildlife and subsistence users. Join us in telling the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to call a halt to this potentially damaging act.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/30/why-now-is-not-the-time-for-a-new-offshore-lease-sale-in-the-chukchi-sea/feed/ 0
Reprieve from Arctic Drilling Creates an Opportunity for Progress http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/10/reprieve-from-arctic-drilling-creates-an-opportunity-for-progress/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/10/reprieve-from-arctic-drilling-creates-an-opportunity-for-progress/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 18:30:13 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6620 Polar Bear Mother and Cubs near Pack Ice

Photo © Image Plan/Corbis

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Shell Oil had a fleet of vessels in the Arctic Ocean in an attempt to drill for oil off the north and northwest coasts of Alaska. But Shell’s 2012 season was plagued by mishaps and mistakes, from the near-grounding of the drillship Noble Discoverer last July to the all-too-real grounding of the drilling unit Kulluk on New Year’s Day this year.

In the end, Shell failed to complete a single Arctic well, and both the Noble Discoverer and Kulluk were so badly damaged that they were towed to Asia for repair earlier this year. In fact, the EPA just fined Shell $1.1 million for unauthorized levels of air pollution from the two vessels — yet another reminder that Shell was not prepared for its Arctic operations.

Shell’s disastrous 2012 season caused oil companies to retreat from proposed offshore drilling plans in the U.S. Arctic. Shell abandoned its plan to drill wells in the Arctic Ocean this year, and ConocoPhillips and Statoil announced they won’t attempt to drill their leases in the Chukchi Sea until at least 2015. This summer, the Arctic Ocean got a reprieve.

Make no mistake, though: this is a temporary reprieve. Shell has made clear that it is still committed to drilling in the Arctic, and ConocoPhillips and Statoil have not given up on their Arctic oil leases either. As I’ve written before, the threat of drilling in Arctic waters is still very much alive.

Even so, this temporarily provides an important opportunity to advocate a better, more thoughtful approach to decision-making in the Arctic. That’s why Ocean Conservancy has been pushing for meaningful changes to the way that federal agencies plan for and manage oil and gas operations in the Arctic. Fortunately, we’re starting to see some progress.

For example, the Department of Interior has announced its intent to improve federal regulations that govern offshore oil and gas operations in the Arctic. We’ve long advocated this kind of reform, since existing regulations don’t reflect the special challenges presented by drilling in Arctic conditions. So far, the Interior Department is considering regulations relating to specific issues like containment systems, relief well capability, and mutual assistance and resource sharing in Arctic waters. Those changes would be a good first step, but the Interior Department also needs to undertake more comprehensive regulatory reform to ensure risks and benefits are weighed properly at the beginning of the planning process.

In addition, the Obama administration released a new National Strategy for the Arctic Region that crystallizes some important concepts. Among those, it calls for protection of the Arctic environment and conservation of Arctic resources, and it recognizes the need for scientific research and traditional knowledge to improve our understanding of the Arctic region. Moreover, the strategy endorses a more coordinated approach to Arctic decision-making called Integrated Arctic Management.

As my colleague Stan Senner noted in an earlier blog post, the piecemeal approach to decision-making that has been used in the Arctic so far has made it difficult to assess the cumulative impacts of multiple development decisions. Integrated Arctic Management is a different approach that should help to identify environmentally sensitive areas at the outset to help ensure they are protected, monitored and managed appropriately.

The Department of Interior’s new regulations and the Obama administration’s new National Strategy for the Arctic Region show promise, but they are still in early stages. Real change will come when the Interior Department finalizes comprehensive regulatory reform, and when the words and goals articulated in the National Strategy are realized in concrete conservation actions. We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go.

Help us put Arctic drilling plans on ice until oil companies prove they can clean up an oil spill in severe Arctic conditions. Sign the petition today.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/10/reprieve-from-arctic-drilling-creates-an-opportunity-for-progress/feed/ 9
Court Upholds Shell’s Spill Response Plans Despite Past Failures and Serious Questions http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/06/court-upholds-shells-spill-response-plans-despite-past-failures-and-serious-questions/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/06/court-upholds-shells-spill-response-plans-despite-past-failures-and-serious-questions/#comments Tue, 06 Aug 2013 18:22:18 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6475 Workers in the ArcticYesterday in Anchorage, the U.S. District Court of Alaska upheld the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s decision to approve Shell Oil’s plans for preventing and cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. The court’s decision is a setback, but it doesn’t change the fact that Shell has failed to meet its obligation to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic at every turn.

The 2012 Arctic drilling season for Shell was remarkably calamitous. From the beginning, Shell experienced failures when their drillship the Noble Discoverer nearly ran aground in Unalaska Bay near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. By the end of the drilling season, the same drillship developed propulsion problems and needed to be towed into port in Seward for repairs.

Then in late December, the Kulluk, Shell’s other Arctic drilling unit, ran aground off of Sitkalidak Island after heavy seas snapped the towline between it and Shell’s tugboat. After a salvage operation plucked the Kulluk off the coast—thankfully with no major injuries or spills—it was eventually dry-towed to Asia for repairs in March.

All of these events happened during the same season that the U.S. Coast Guard held back Shell’s oil spill containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, in Bellingham, Wash., for failure to meet required safety standards. The Arctic Challenger was stuck in Bellingham until October 11, almost the end of the drilling season and long after Shell’s 2012 mistakes in Alaska began.

Similarly, Shell’s oil spill containment dome was not ready in time for the drilling season. When Shell tested the dome in September 2012, it failed spectacularly and was so badly damaged that Shell was forced to call off its plans to drill into oil-bearing layers.

Shell’s 2012 drilling season proved that even one of the world’s biggest companies was not prepared for operations in the challenging and remote waters of the Arctic Ocean. From the near-grounding of the Noble Discoverer to the troubles with oil spill response equipment to the actual grounding of the Kulluk, Shell’s actions evidence a lack of preparedness and an inability to work safely and responsibly in the Arctic.

The court may have decided that Shell’s plan complied with the law yesterday, but that does nothing to change the fact that any oil spill response in the Arctic, just like any attempts to drill there, will be incredibly difficult.

We all know that oil and water don’t mix, and that’s especially true in the Arctic. After seeing Shell’s track record, where failure to meet expectations has been the norm, there is no doubt that we should pause and reconsider whether and how oil companies can operate safely in the Arctic under such risky conditions.

 

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/06/court-upholds-shells-spill-response-plans-despite-past-failures-and-serious-questions/feed/ 13
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.

 

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/05/alaska-interagency-working-group-whole-of-government-integrated-arctic-management-is-in-everyones-best-interest/feed/ 9
Salazar: Shell Screwed Up http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/14/salazar-shell-screwed-up/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/14/salazar-shell-screwed-up/#comments Thu, 14 Mar 2013 22:41:29 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5156

Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

“Shell screwed up in 2012.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was bluntly accurate when speaking about Shell’s calamitous Arctic drilling program today.

The Interior Department’s new high-level, 60-day review – while not comprehensive – calls attention to serious shortcomings in Shell’s 2012 effort and recommends a more thorough, integrated approach to planning and oversight before deciding on whether to approve future Arctic drilling operations.

The review confirms what we already knew: that Shell simply was not ready to conduct safe and responsible operations in icy Arctic waters. It also demonstrates that federal agencies need to do a better job holding the oil industry accountable and setting higher standards for safety and environmental protection.

To that end, Shell will be required to submit a “comprehensive, integrated plan” covering all aspects of drilling and related operations, and “commission and complete a full third-party audit” of its management systems.

The company’s drilling program was plagued by problems throughout the season. Its performance has been notable only for its failures, and has provided us with a laundry list of reasons for why industry is not ready for offshore oil exploration in the Arctic.

The Interior Department initiated its urgent review of Shell’s actions in the Arctic in light of the recent grounding of the Kulluk drilling rig off the coast of Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. The company’s other Arctic drillship—the Noble Discoverer—suffered significant problems with propulsion, safety and pollution prevention systems. As a result, Shell now plans to dry-tow both vessels to Asia for repair and renovation. This latest setback prompted the troubled oil company to announce that it would hit pause on its plans to drill in the Arctic during the 2013 season.

While Shell’s admission of defeat this year reduces the short-term threat of Arctic drilling, it only makes the findings of the Interior Department’s review that much more important in the long run. Shell may have halted its drilling operations for now, but it plans to bring its drill rigs back to the Arctic soon. Furthermore, ConocoPhillips recently declared that it is not backing off on its plan to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic in 2014.

Without meaningful action from the Interior Department and other government agencies, Arctic drilling could lead to a disaster for the region. As the 60-day review put it, a “significant accident or spill in the remote and inhospitable Alaskan Arctic could have catastrophic consequences on fragile ecosystems and the people who depend on the ocean for subsistence.”

The Interior Department’s review is a first step on the road to implementing stronger, safer and more protective oversight of Arctic waters. Now, government agencies need to follow through on the report’s recommendations and make meaningful changes to the way they plan for and manage Arctic oil and gas operations.

In the meantime, there should be a complete time-out on Arctic drilling until we have improved our understanding of the Arctic ecosystem, protected important ecological and subsistence areas and developed effective methods to clean up an oil spill in icy Arctic water. Thankfully, Shell’s decision to pass on the 2013 drilling season gives us time to make progress.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/14/salazar-shell-screwed-up/feed/ 0