The Blog Aquatic » 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 New Report Will Promote Integrated Arctic Management http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/30/new-report-will-promote-integrated-arctic-management/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/30/new-report-will-promote-integrated-arctic-management/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 15:03:53 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8881

Photo: Jay DeFehr

With a new University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) report, we finally have a comprehensive view of oil, gas, and commercial transportation development in Arctic Alaska.

In a report to the President issued last year, a federal interagency working group called for a new, integrated approach to stewardship and development decisions in the U.S. Arctic. This new approach—called “Integrated Arctic Management”—is intended to integrate and balance “environmental, economic, and cultural needs and objectives” in the region.

Effective application of Integrated Arctic Management demands not only an understanding of Arctic ecosystems, but an understanding of the impacts of industrial development in the region. Until now, information on industrial development in the U.S. Arctic has been available only in piecemeal fashion, scattered throughout a range of documents and publications. This has made it difficult to understand how planned and proposed development activities will intersect with existing industrial operations to affect the region as a whole.

Fortunately, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) recently released a report that addresses this information gap. The new report, entitled “A Synthesis of Existing, Planned, and Proposed Infrastructure and Operations Supporting Oil and Gas Activities and Commercial Transportation in Arctic Alaska,” takes a holistic view of industrial infrastructure and operations on Alaska’s North Slope. While the report is an independent publication of UAF, Ocean Conservancy provided support for the project and the underlying research and analysis.

The report compiles information about oil and gas activities and commercial transportation in the U.S. Arctic from a range of sources, including environmental analyses, planning documents, and industry materials. The report considers wells, roads, pipelines, and facilities that already exist in Arctic Alaska. It also looks at planned and proposed industrial infrastructure that may be built and operated in coming years, such as offshore energy development that could result from Shell’s oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea. To help readers visualize the scope and scale of development operations, the report includes a variety of maps depicting different portions of the Arctic and the region as a whole. By assembling this information in one place, the synthesis gives stakeholders and decision-makers a valuable reference for the region that has been previously unavailable.

There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding increased energy development in Arctic Alaska, but the report makes clear that if planned and proposed projects go forward, they could result in a significant expansion of industrial infrastructure and operations in the region, both onshore and offshore. This could include the construction of hundreds of new structures, thousands of new wells, and thousands of miles of new pipelines and roads. The new industrial development would greatly expand the industrial “footprint” in Arctic Alaska.

The report does not take a position on this potential expansion of industrial development in the U.S. Arctic. It does, however, give decision-makers and stakeholders ready access to information that can help them better understand how proposed industrial development activities may combine in ways that could have profound impacts on Arctic ecosystems and people. In doing so, it can facilitate integrated, long-term decision-making that will minimize and mitigate negative impacts associated with development. This will provide a strong foundation from which to explore alternative visions for Arctic conservation and development—something that Ocean Conservancy plans to pursue in the coming year.

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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.

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A Break from Drilling Doesn’t Mean a Break From Protecting the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/16/a-break-from-drilling-doesnt-mean-a-break-from-protecting-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/16/a-break-from-drilling-doesnt-mean-a-break-from-protecting-the-arctic/#comments Thu, 16 May 2013 22:34:57 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5806

Spring has arrived here in Anchorage. This time of year brings a lot of welcome changes: the days are longer, it’s warmer outside, snow is melting and waves of migratory birds are making their way back to Alaska. In recent years, springtime has also signaled the start of something much less welcome: attempts to drill for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Fortunately, that’s not going to happen this year. As I’ve written about before, Shell’s disastrous 2012 season now has the company sidelined for at least a year as it tries to recover.ConocoPhillips recently decided to postpone indefinitely its plans to conduct exploration drilling on its offshore leases in the U.S. Arctic. Last year, Norwegian oil company Statoil announced that it would not attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea until at least 2015 and French oil major Total warned that it was too risky for energy companies to drill offshore in Arctic waters at all.

But that doesn’t mean the work is over – far from it.

Companies like Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil have not abandoned their quest for Arctic oil. Just last month, the news media reported that Shell was negotiating to extend its contract to use the Arctic drillship Noble Discoverer—a clear signal that the oil giant has not given up its plans for Arctic drilling. In other words, despite the current hiatus in offshore exploration in the U.S. Arctic, oil and gas operations pose an ongoing threat.

This is why now is the time to make meaningful changes in the way that government agencies plan for and manage oil and gas operations in the Arctic, including:

  • The Department of Interior (DOI) should follow through on its commitment to identify and protect important ecological and subsistence areas in the Arctic Ocean. Protecting these important areas from future oil and gas operations will help to preserve ecosystem resilience and prevent degradation and fragmentation.
  • DOI should also implement the recommendations found in its review of Shell’s 2012 Arctic exploration program, including the call to develop Arctic-specific standards to govern future drilling attempts in the region. Similarly, government agencies should heed the recommendations contained in a recent report released by former members of President Obama’s Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Commission. These proposals include, among other things, development of new regulations for Arctic waters and assessment of Arctic spill prevention and response technologies under adverse conditions.
  • Scientists still have much to learn about the Arctic’s rapidly changing marine ecosystem—particularly about the potential cumulative effects of climate change, ocean acidification and increasing industrial operations. It’s time to implement a comprehensive scientific research, monitoring and observation program that will advance scientific understanding of the Arctic and help managers make more informed decisions about whether and under what conditions to allow oil and gas lease sales, drilling, or development in the future.

A season-long break from the threat of offshore drilling in the Arctic is a good thing. No drilling operations means there will be less pollution discharged into the water, fewer emissions spewed into the air, reduced industrial noise and no risk of a catastrophic oil spill.

But real progress will only come when DOI and other federal agencies begin to fully implement the fundamental changes necessary for true Arctic conservation and find alternatives to the extraction of more fossil fuels to meet the nation’s energy needs.

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Stop Reckless Drilling: A New Year’s Resolution for Our Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/14/stop-reckless-drilling-a-new-years-resolution-for-our-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/14/stop-reckless-drilling-a-new-years-resolution-for-our-ocean/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 18:28:02 +0000 Denny Takahashi Kelso http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4210

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.

As I highlight on Huffington Post:

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.

Read the full story here.

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A Rocky End to 2012 for Shell’s Arctic Drillships http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/03/a-rocky-end-to-2012-for-shells-arctic-drillships/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/03/a-rocky-end-to-2012-for-shells-arctic-drillships/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2013 15:42:39 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4085
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.

At approximately 9pm local time on December 31, the Kulluk ran aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island. Photographs and video from the scene show waves pounding the grounded drilling unit. According to Shell, the Kulluk is carrying up to 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel, together with approximately 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid. As of this writing, the hull is stable and upright, and so far there are no signs of contaminants in the water. Nevertheless, responders are staging spill response equipment to the area in the event of a spill. On January 2, an assessment team boarded the Kulluk to evaluate options for freeing the rig. But until the rig is off the rocks, we can only hope that the vessel remains intact and more serious environmental damage is avoided.

The dramatic grounding and salvage of the Kulluk overshadowed the earlier news that Shell’s other Arctic drillship—the Noble Discoverer—had significant problems of its own. The LA Times and Alaska Dispatch recently reported that the Discoverer had to be towed into port in Seward, Alaska after the drillship developed propulsion problems in November. While in port in Seward, a Coast Guard inspection revealed serious issues with safety and pollution prevention equipment. The problems were so severe that the Discoverer failed to meet federal and international requirements. The U.S. Coast Guard cited the Discoverer for the deficiencies and ordered the ship to remain in port until it was brought back into compliance with regulations. The ship’s owner, the Noble Corporation, acknowledged the problems in a press release and admitted that the Discoverer may have discharged pollutants without proper authorization. Noble claims that it corrected the most serious problems and the Coast Guard has lifted its detention order. As of this writing the Discoverer is still in Seward. According to news reports, a tug will tow the Discoverer to Seattle where the drillship will undergo additional repairs.

The grounding of the Kulluk and safety and pollution prevention problems on the Noble Discoverer come on the heels of a long string of other mishaps from last summer’s drilling operations—including the near-grounding of the Discoverer near Dutch Harbor last July and a failed test of Shell’s oil spill containment system that left Shell’s equipment “crushed like a beer can.” Shell’s track record of failure in 2012 raises serious questions about whether the company is capable of carrying out safe operations in Alaska’s challenging environments.

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Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Record Low http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/28/arctic-sea-ice-reaches-record-low/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/28/arctic-sea-ice-reaches-record-low/#comments Tue, 28 Aug 2012 13:35:25 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2540

This visualization shows the extent of Arctic sea ice on Aug. 26, 2012, the day the sea ice dipped to its smallest extent ever recorded in more than three decades of satellite measurements. The line on the image shows the average minimum extent from the period covering 1979-2010, as measured by satellites. Every summer the Arctic ice cap melts down to what scientists call its “minimum” before colder weather builds the ice cover back up. The size of this minimum remains in a long-term decline. Credit: NASA

The National Snow and Ice Data Center has just announced critical ice in the Arctic Ocean melted to record low levels this summer. The Washington Post reports:

“As of Sunday, the Arctic sea ice cover had shrunk to 1.58 million square miles, the smallest area since satellite measurement began in 1979. With the melting season not yet over, the ice will almost certainly contract further in the coming weeks before it begins to re-form.”

Arctic sea ice plays an important role in moderating the global climate. The bright surface of sea ice reflects sunlight back into space. Each year, portions of it melt in the summer, exposing the ocean surface. While the sea ice can reflect about 50 to 70 percent of the sunlight back into space, the dark ocean absorbs approximately 90 percent of the sunlight, heating the water and causing Arctic temperatures to rise even further. This process creates a feedback loop as warmer temperatures cause further sea ice melt. The reduction in Arctic sea ice has far reaching impacts on global atmospheric patterns and ocean circulation. Learn more about the important role sea ice plays in regulating the global climate here.

Here at Ocean Conservancy, we have been urging the government to stop Shell’s Arctic drilling plans and protect this fragile and vitally important region. A green light for Arctic drilling would mean placing an already stressed environment in greater jeopardy, which isn’t worth the risk. The decrease in seasonal sea ice has created the potential for a dramatic expansion of oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters. Currently, there is no adequate technology, technique or infrastructure to respond effectively to an oil spill in icy Arctic waters, and darkness, hazardous weather, or sea conditions could delay spill response for weeks.

Even without a major accident, day-to-day oil and gas operations create significant environmental disturbances. Seismic testing, exploratory drilling, and increased vessel and air traffic associated with oil and gas operations generate noise and air and water pollution, with the potential to affect whales and other marine animals and, in turn, the people who depend on them for subsistence.

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Amazing Facts about Bowhead Whales and How You Can Help Them http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/07/amazing-facts-about-bowhead-whales-and-how-you-can-help-them/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/07/amazing-facts-about-bowhead-whales-and-how-you-can-help-them/#comments Tue, 07 Aug 2012 19:55:56 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2072

Did you know bowhead whales can boast some surprising statistics?

  • their blubber is more than a foot thick, and
  • their baleen—plates in the mouth that filter prey from water—can grow 15 feet long.

But one of their most eye-opening attributes is their longevity. Chemical analysis on samples from whale eyeballs the size of billiard balls revealed ages up to an estimated 211 years. Accounting for a margin of error of about 16 percent, the oldest bowhead studied could have been up to 245 years old—no other mammal is known to have lived as long.

More than 13,000 bowheads swim off Alaska’s coast, but threats are growing. Oil and gas exploration will impact bowhead habitat and increases the stresses whales face.

“We know they react to the noise of activity related to oil drilling at distances of more than 12 miles,” explains bowhead researcher Craig George. Offshore oil and gas exploration means not only more underwater clanging, humming and pounding, but also increased vessel traffic.

As sea ice retreats, commercial shipping lanes will likely bring additional traffic. “Only a few bowheads show propeller injuries at present,” says George, “but as activities pick up, we should expect more whales to get struck by ships.”

Learn more about bowhead whales and how you can take action to help protect them.

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