The Blog Aquatic » Bureau of Ocean Energy Management 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 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.

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Offshore Wind Moving Closer to Providing Renewable Energy to the East Coast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/25/offshore-wind-moving-closer-to-providing-renewable-energy-to-the-east-coast/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/25/offshore-wind-moving-closer-to-providing-renewable-energy-to-the-east-coast/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2013 19:40:31 +0000 Anna Zivian http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4404

Credit: Wind Turbines by Shutterstock/Dennis van de Water

2013 may be a very windy year. All along the Atlantic Coast, offshore renewable power has been getting a boost. In states from North Carolina to Maine, growing support for wind energy has led to practical steps that will get this industry moving.

In North Carolina, Governor McCrory has announced his support for offshore renewable wind development, saying it would help grow North Carolina’s economy and provide jobs. On Tuesday, in Annapolis, Maryland, Governor O’Malley rolled out a bill to create incentives for offshore renewable energy. In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, wind projects are under construction. In Maine, the Public Utilities Commission voted 2-1 on Thursday to approve the terms for Statoil, a Norwegian state energy company, to move forward with a $120 floating wind turbine test project, clearing the biggest step in making the proposal a reality. All along the East Coast, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is moving forward with a public planning to help site offshore wind farms, making sure to consider other ocean users and environmental concerns in the process.

Finally, to help tie it all together, in New Jersey, Atlantic Wind Connection announced that it will be moving forward with plans for the first part of its offshore transmission line that will help connect offshore wind farms to the grid to provide energy to homes and businesses in New Jersey. Construction of the 189-mile segment (of what will eventually be a 350-mile line) is scheduled to be completed by 2015. Even before the line delivers wind energy, it will help (off)shore up the transmission infrastructure.

As we saw from Hurricane Sandy, storms can wreak havoc on the energy distribution system, knocking down power lines and causing hundreds of thousands of people to lose electricity. Having a line offshore and undersea means that at least part of the energy grid will be less vulnerable to the hurricanes and strong storms that are growing more frequent.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management made a finding of no competitive interest and approved AWC to move forward with its permitting process in 2011. The public process for approval allows stakeholders, the public and state and federal agencies to review where and how the line will be sited, what impacts construction of the line could cause, and whether there might be any conflicts created by building the line. This smart planning also lets AWC coordinate with other users to figure out the best routes for the line so that it can link up easily to future offshore wind farms as well as to existing onshore infrastructure.

As Atlantic Wind Connection President Markian Melnyk said about ocean planning at a regional meeting in New England, “”What it means for us is greater predictability, lower risk, lower cost. In our view, when you can identify the right places to do ocean energy, you can do everything better — you can do conservation better and can do energy development better. It doesn’t have to be a fight over siting; this type of collaborative siting work helps makes it more about science and more about sound economics than about fighting.”

With the help of collaboration, coordination and smart planning, renewable energy and better infrastructure may soon become a reality on the East Coast.

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