Ocean Currents » chukchi sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:30:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Leaving the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/09/leaving-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/09/leaving-the-arctic/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 17:44:53 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12256

The news from the Arctic this week has been all about what’s leaving the Arctic. It’s good news when oil and gas companies leave the Arctic, but it’s really bad news when sea ice leaves the Arctic!!

First, let’s get to the good news. Repsol, an oil and gas company, just announced it’s abandoning 55 of its oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea and plans to abandon the remaining 38 over the next year. In addition, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Iona Energy and Shell have given up more than 350 leases covering more than 2 million acres in the Chukchi Sea. Soon, there will be only one lease remaining in the Chukchi Sea—and additional drilling on that lease is unlikely.

While oil and gas companies have largely given up their oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, active offshore leases still threaten the Beaufort Sea off the coast of northeastern Alaska. What’s more, the Obama Administration is still considering whether to allow the sale of more offshore oil leases in Arctic waters.

But, you can do something about it! Join us in protecting our Arctic by taking action today! Please take action by asking the Obama Administration to drop Arctic leasing from the final version of the 2017 to 2022 leasing program.

What about the sea ice? That news is not so good: Arctic sea ice extent hit a depressing new low in May. The Washington Post described it in these terms: “The Arctic Ocean this May had more than three Californias less sea ice cover than it did during an average May between 1981 and 2010.”

That’s just the latest bad news. 2016 as a whole hasn’t been a good year for Arctic sea ice; there were record low levels of sea ice extent in January, February and April, too. As the affects of climate change continue to be felt all across our planet, the Arctic is ground zero.

Do we truly know how magnificent the Arctic is—or what’s at stake if we lose more habitat in this precious region of the Earth?

That’s why I want to invite you to join us this summer as we explore the Arctic Ocean in a new blog series. You’ll get to discover some of the world’s largest congregations of seabirds, and learn how iconic wildlife — like polar bears, beluga whales and ringed seals — live in this varied and rapidly changing ocean ecosystem.

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Icy Waters for Shell http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/10/icy-waters-for-shell/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/10/icy-waters-for-shell/#comments Tue, 10 May 2016 19:22:56 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12051

Yesterday, Shell gave up almost all of its oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea. This marks another nail in the coffin for risky offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

But Shell still has one lease remaining in the Chukchi Sea, along with leases in the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska. What’s more, the Obama Administration is still considering whether to allow the sale of more offshore oil leases in Arctic waters.

There is too much at stake to risk additional leasing. Will you join us in protecting our Arctic by taking action today?

Some of the world’s largest seabird populations congregate in the Arctic. Iconic wildlife thrives in this amazing ecosystem, including polar bears, beluga whales and ringed seals.

Please take action by asking the Obama Administration to drop Arctic leasing from the final version of the 2017 to 2022 leasing program.

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Victory in the Arctic: Shell Terminates Drilling Activities in the Chukchi Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/28/victory-in-the-arctic-shell-terminates-drilling-activities-in-the-chukchi-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/28/victory-in-the-arctic-shell-terminates-drilling-activities-in-the-chukchi-sea/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2015 19:17:23 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10779

Early on Monday morning, Shell announced that it would no longer pursue oil-drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. Shell’s announcement has been a long time coming, and marks a major victory for all those who have opposed Arctic drilling as too risky and too much of a threat to the Arctic ecosystem and the planet’s climate.

Shell purchased its Chukchi Sea leases in 2008, but was precluded from drilling on its leases for many years. Among other things, legal challenges exposed flaws in the government’s environmental analyses and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in a temporary restriction on Arctic drilling. In 2012, Shell finally received the green light to drill in the Chukchi Sea, but the company was woefully unprepared for the challenge: vessels were not ready, spill response equipment failed under testing, equipment spewed air pollution in violation of standards and one of its drill rigs was swept ashore in a storm on the way back to Seattle. In the end, Shell failed to complete a single well in 2012.


This year, when Shell finally returned to the Arctic, it did so under intense scrutiny. Government regulators ensured that Shell conformed to rules designed to protect vulnerable species like Pacific walrus. This meant that Shell could only operate one of its two Arctic drilling rigs and could only drill for a short window of time during the ice-free summer season. Activists protested the presence of Shell’s Arctic vessels in in Seattle and Portland, highlighting the risk of an oil spill in icy and remote waters—and the risk to the planet’s climate if Shell found and developed a massive oil reservoir in the Arctic Ocean. And Shell encountered at least one problem reminiscent of its failed 2012 season when one of its ice-breaking vessels struck an uncharted object, opening a gash in its hull.

Despite these challenges, Shell persisted with its efforts to complete an exploration well in the Chukchi Sea. But when the company final did so earlier this summer, it found that there was not enough oil to justify additional exploration at the prospect. In a press release, Shell announced that it would “cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.” In addition to the sub-optimal results from the exploration well, Shell cited high costs and challenging regulations as reasons for giving up.

Shell’s decision to retreat from the Arctic Ocean is great news for the bowhead whales, walruses, ice-dependent seals and other wildlife species that could have been devastated by an oil spill in this remote region. Local communities depend on marine mammals like these to support a subsistence way of life that stretches back for thousands of years.

Shell’s decision to leave the Arctic Ocean should be viewed as an affirmation of all those who joined together in opposition to Shell’s risky drilling schemes. Now that the immediate threat of oil drilling has ended, we can focus on crafting sustainable solutions for long-term health in this rapidly changing region.

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Rallying for the Arctic 26 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/26/rallying-for-the-arctic-26-years-after-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/26/rallying-for-the-arctic-26-years-after-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:41:41 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10021

In honor of the 26 anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, dozens of Arctic lovers gathered in front of the White House to show their support for a clean and healthy Arctic Ocean. Individual ocean supporters, people from groups like Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and Friends of the Earth US all stood together to tell the Obama Administration to protect the Arctic from risky oil drilling. I was fortunate enough to be able to join these Arctic advocates.

The Exxon Valdez disaster took place in Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska. Over the course of three days, nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, Alaska’s Arctic Ocean is threatened by risky oil drilling. Shell Oil has proposed drilling exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska as soon as this summer. That’s why people chanted, held signs and demonstrated outside of the White House.

A recent Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report found that there’s a 75 percent chance of a spill if companies, like Shell, are allowed to develop oil in the Arctic. Cleaning an oil spill in Arctic waters would be nearly impossible due to lack of infrastructure, extreme weather and rapidly forming sea ice.

Were you not able to attend the rally? Not to worry – there’s still a lot you can do to fight for the Arctic! Join us in telling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect marine mammals from risky Arctic drilling.

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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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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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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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