As is the case with many career paths, my journey toward joining Ocean Conservancy as President and CEO is a long and circuitous one, and it begins with a childhood spent playing along the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany. Inspired by the post-war environmental awakening in industrial northern Germany, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to conservation.
When I graduated from high school, my father gave me 3,000 Deutsche Marks and told me to leave out of the front door of the house and return at the back door, taking the long way around. As naïve as it sounds, I started my “walkabout” in the United States by sticking my thumb in the air outside the arrivals terminal of New York City’s JFK airport and eventually hitchhiked my way across the country.
My latest Huffington Post piece calls for a New Year’s resolution that protects our ocean from reckless oil drilling. We’re two weeks into 2013, and Shell Oil has already made headlines with several missteps, including losing control of one of its Arctic drill rigs in the Gulf of Alaska.
How many strikes will Shell get before the Obama administration agrees to stop Arctic drilling operations at this time? The latest failure on Shell’s part – violation of EPA air permits – is even more striking considering that Shell had proposed the more lenient permit levels, and even those levels didn’t suffice. The Interior Department’s review of the 2012 drilling season should be thorough, comprehensive and objective; and until the results are made public, operations should not move forward.
The Arctic is an unforgiving environment, and oil companies like Shell are not in control. In light of Shell’s demonstrated inability to carry out safe, responsible Arctic operations, the Interior Department’s forthcoming assessment must be transparent, objective and comprehensive in scope — including a rigorous investigation of Shell’s drilling rig and oil spill response equipment failures.
Shell’s pattern of failures and near-misses demands an honest and thoughtful reconsideration of the company’s plans for the Arctic. We need a time-out on Arctic drilling until we have improved our understanding of the region, protected important ecological and subsistence areas, and developed effective methods to clean up an oil spill in icy Arctic water.
Last year ended badly for the two drill rigs used by Shell Oil for its Arctic operations. A Coast Guard inspection in late November revealed significant problems with safety and pollution prevention equipment aboard the drillship Noble Discoverer. More recently—and more dramatically—a powerful storm in the North Pacific drove Shell’s drilling unit Kulluk aground off the coast of Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, Alaska. Fortunately, the Coast Guard evacuated the Kulluk’s crew before the drilling unit grounded and so far, there are have been no serious injuries. The operation to salvage the Kulluk is ongoing, and we hope that all responders and salvors stay safe.
The Kulluk’s problems began on Thursday, December 27 when heavy seas snapped the towline between the Kulluk and Shell’s tug, the Aiviq. Crews managed to reestablish the towline connecting the vessels, but the Aiviq then experienced total engine failure, leaving both tug and tow adrift in rough seas and high winds. Shell sent additional vessels to the scene to assist, and the Coast Guard responded with two cutters and MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters. At Shell’s request, the Coast Guard evacuated the 18-person crew of the Kulluk on December 29. Coast Guard helicopters delivered engine parts and technicians to the Aiviq that enabled repair of the tug’s engines but—despite repeated efforts over the course of several days—neither the Aiviq nor any of the other response vessels were able to tow the Kulluk to safety.
Walrus cow with calf on ice. Credit: U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Region
Last month, the United States Arctic Research Commission released a report containing an inventory of ongoing research activities and a series of recommendations regarding oil spills in Arctic waters. The report shows that governments, industry, nonprofit organizations, and others are engaged in a range of Arctic oil spill research development activities. At the same time, however, the report’s recommendations show that much more work is needed to improve oil spill preparedness and response capabilities in the Arctic.
The Arctic Research Commission is an independent federal agency established by the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984. Among other things, the Commission is tasked with establishing policy, priorities, and goals to support a plan for scientific research in the Arctic; promoting cooperation and collaboration among federal agencies active in Arctic research; assisting in the development of a five-year Arctic research plan; and working with Arctic residents, international research programs, and others to develop a broad perspective on Arctic research needs. Continue reading »
When you think of the Arctic, you probably think of a pristine area largely untouched by human hands. But even though few people get a chance to see the Arctic firsthand, that’s not stopping our trash from making the journey.
Plastic in the water is the last thing the Arctic needs right now. This past summer, Arctic sea ice melted to its smallest size in the history of satellite measurement. Each year, the amount of Arctic ice (or lack thereof) during summer months stirs up conversations about the health of Arctic ecosystems and potential implications for our global ocean. But Arctic ice is not the only barometer of ecosystem health; instead, we must also take a critical look at what’s below the icy water’s surface.
As the dust begins to settle after what felt like a never-ending election season, Ocean Conservancy is gearing up for our policy work to begin again in earnest. Our approach isn’t about which party is in charge, it’s about finding solutions for a healthy ocean, wherever they may come from. Here are a few initial reactions and issues to be on the lookout for following the 2012 election:
The oil drilling ship Noble Discoverer. Credit: jkbrooks85 flickr stream
Wednesday October 31 marked the end of the drilling season in the Arctic Ocean. Shell had hoped to drill a series of exploration wells into potential oil deposits in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s coast. But things didn’t go as planned for the oil giant, and it never reached the oil it was looking for. Instead of drilling exploration wells into oil-bearing layers, Shell was able to do only preparatory work and shallow “top-hole” drilling on two Arctic wells.
The 2012 drilling season didn’t unfold the way that Shell had hoped, but we did learn a few things from the company’s efforts.