Ocean Currents » arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:41:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 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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Celebrating 2014’s Ocean Victories http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/29/celebrating-2014s-ocean-victories/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/29/celebrating-2014s-ocean-victories/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 14:00:48 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9644

Photo: Tony Prince

This year was a great year for the ocean! We were able to make waves and accomplish some truly amazing things thanks to supporters and ocean lovers like you. From saving baby sea turtles to protecting the Arctic from reckless oil drilling, here are just a few of the major victories our ocean saw this year.

Gulf Leaders Protect the Gulf’s Deep Water

It’s been nearly 5 years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and Gulf leaders have proven they’re dedicated to restoring the Gulf’s shore as well as the Gulf’s deep water.  Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will invest in projects that protect dolphins and manatees, track the recovery of fish species like red snapper, and map the seafloor to inform sustainable fishing practices.

The U.S. Has Ambitious Plans to Protect the Arctic

In 2014, the eight-nation Arctic Council announced that the U.S. would assume the Council’s  Chair position for the next two years beginning in April 2015. As Chair, the U.S. hopes to focus on the impacts of climate change on the Arctic, encourage sustainable development in remote Arctic communities, and improve stewardship of the Arctic Ocean.

Smart Ocean Planning Gets Public Support from the Obama Administration

The Obama Administration publicly committed to completing smart ocean plans for the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions by the end of 2016. Smart ocean planning will make sure all stakeholders in these regions have a seat at the table. This will ensure valuable input from those who depend on the ocean for food, transportation, energy and recreation.

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

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit that Shell brought against Ocean Conservancy and several other conservation and Alaska Native organizations. Shell received permits from federal agencies to drill in the Arctic years ago and preemptively sued Ocean Conservancy and other organizations to stop us from challenging the validity of those permits. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us that Shell’s lawsuit was just an attempt to intimidate nonprofits and discourage them from opposing risky Arctic drilling.

Businesses Stepped Up to Protect the Ocean

Thanks to the hard work of ocean loving school children, Dunkin’ Donuts has agreed to phase out the use of Styrofoam cups. Hilton Worldwide also announced that they would no longer be serving or taking new orders for shark fin dishes.

Congress Invests in Our Ocean’s Health

Ocean lovers made sure that ocean and marine life were top priorities for Congress. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive $5.4 billion for their 2015 fiscal year budget. Ocean Acidification research will receive $8.5 million, a $2.5 million increase. Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, funds built to help communities deal with changes in marine ecosystems and economic shifts, will receive $5 million in funding. And attempts in Congress to weaken the National Ocean Policy were thwarted.

World Leaders Addressed Ocean Issues

We joined world leaders, scientists, and other ocean advocates at the Our Ocean Conference, hosted by Secretary John Kerry. Andreas Merkl, our CEO, spoke on a panel about the dangers of marine debris and how we can solve this problem together.

East Coast States Tackle Ocean Acidification

Maine and Maryland are leading the charge against ocean acidification on the East Coast. Both of these states have a rich maritime history. However, ocean acidification is threatening not only their way of life, but also their businesses and livelihoods. Maine and Maryland legislatures have formed a commission and taskforce to study the impacts of ocean acidification on each state’s coastal ecosystems and commercial shellfish industries.

The Gulf’s Iconic Red Snapper Gets a Major Boost

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed a measure called Amendment 40 that allows separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper. This is great news because it allows for better management strategies that are tailored to individual needs of fishermen. It also helps the red snapper’s long-term recovery.

We Protected Baby Sea Turtles with Your Help

We expanded our Preserve the Spirit: The Sea Turtle Protection Partnership thanks to generous supporters like you. This program had volunteers remove marine debris from beaches where sea turtles nest. These volunteers made beaches safer for baby sea turtles and provided us invaluable data on the threats sea turtles face.

International Coastal Cleanup Day 2014

We celebrated the 29th Annual International Coastal Cleanup Day in 2014. The report on what we found will be released in next spring. And we’ve already started planning big things for the ICC’s 30th birthday in 2015.

Thank you again for being a part of our amazing year. We look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in 2015!

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Stand Against Risky Oil Drilling in the Arctic Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/11/stand-against-risky-oil-drilling-in-the-arctic-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/11/stand-against-risky-oil-drilling-in-the-arctic-ocean/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:13:20 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9611 Arctic sea ice

© Corbis. All rights reserved.

If we don’t act now, the U.S. government could open up more Arctic waters to exploratory drilling as soon as this summer!

This after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) own report said there is a 75% — yes, 75% — chance of a large spill if companies like Shell are allowed to develop and produce in Arctic waters.

We can’t stand by and let that happen.

BOEM is holding a public comment period from now until December 23rd before making a critical decision about offshore drilling in the Arctic. They need to hear from you now.

Take action now: Tell the U.S. government to stop risky Arctic Ocean drilling.

With ever-changing sea ice, freezing temperatures, limited visibility, gale-force winds and no Coast Guard base for almost 1,000 miles, cleaning up a major oil spill in the Arctic would be incredibly difficult if not outright impossible.

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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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U.S. Announces Ambitious Program to Save the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/u-s-announces-ambitious-program-to-save-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/u-s-announces-ambitious-program-to-save-the-arctic/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 14:00:08 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9505

Photo: USFWS

At this month’s Arctic Council meeting in Yellowknife, Canada, the U.S. Department of State announced key initiatives that it plans on pursuing when it assumes the two year Chair of the eight-nation council in April 2015.

These initiatives, presented under the theme of “One Arctic:  Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities,” will focus largely on reducing the causes of and impacts from climate change and will include projects ranging from reducing emissions of short lived climate pollutants to developing a circumpolar Arctic network of Marine Protected Areas.

The U.S. announced their priority programs in three distinct thematic areas:

  1. Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change in the Arctic,
  2. Stewardship of the Arctic Ocean, and
  3. Improving Economic and Living Conditions in the Arctic.

As climate change is causing the remote Arctic ecosystems to change more rapidly than any other region on the planet, Ocean Conservancy applauds the ambitious and comprehensive nature of these initiatives.

Ocean Conservancy previously undertook an in-depth review of the current state of Arctic science and management. We recommended that the U.S. take this opportunity to begin the difficult but urgent process of marine spatial planning and conservation by developing a regional seas program for the Arctic Ocean, protecting important ecological areas, and addressing climate pollutants that are the underlying cause of wildlife and habitat declines in the globally unique Arctic marine environment.  We are proud to report that all of these components were prominent in the U.S. plans.

The U.S. priorities represent a significant move forward from the Economic Development focus of the conservative Canadian government – the current Chair – and were well received by the eight Arctic nations and six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations who sit at the table. While we cannot solve the multitude of issues confronting the Arctic during the two-year U.S. Chair, we can continue our progress in 2017 and beyond when the conservation-minded Finnish government assumes the Chair.

There will still be a focus on improving living conditions and encouraging sustainable development in remote Arctic communities through programs such as renewable energy initiatives and protecting freshwater resources. The U.S. conservation priorities, however, will help the Council, which was founded in the 1990s as an outgrowth of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, get back to its roots and address the ecological changes in the rapidly melting Arctic.  This will occur with management and coordination through a regional seas agreement and program, and at site specific levels, including enacting protections for important ecological areas and habitat for Arctic wildlife.

The U.S. focus on climate change is particularly important now that other large emitters, including China, the European Union, and India, have been admitted to the Arctic Council as Observers.  This means that the Arctic Council will be another venue for collaborative work on reducing emissions of climate pollutants. With the recent announcement of a bilateral U.S. and China program to reduce emissions, Ocean Conservancy has high hopes that this work will continue and expand through focused dialogue at the Arctic Council.

Further signaling the U.S. commitment to using the two year Chair of the Arctic Council to achieve real progress in saving the Arctic was the announcement that Secretary of State John Kerry himself will act as the Chair of the Council and that the U.S. will undertake both public outreach and scientific initiatives to help us better understand the Arctic and the challenges that wildlife and communities are confronting with the impacts of climate change.

As one of only two conservation organizations accredited to work at the Arctic Council,  Ocean Conservancy looks forward to using our unique access to this high level intergovernmental forum to ensure that these ambitious initiatives to save the Arctic and its wildlife are achieved.

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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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