The Blog Aquatic » offshore 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 Help Us Say No to Risky Arctic Drilling http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/24/help-us-say-no-to-risky-arctic-drilling/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/24/help-us-say-no-to-risky-arctic-drilling/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:21:51 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8806

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Breaking: The U.S. government is beginning to make plans for future offshore oil and gas operations—and those plans could open Arctic waters to risky drilling.

This follows Shell Oil’s decision to abandon Arctic drilling this summer, after an accident-plagued 2012.

If a disaster like BP Deepwater Horizon happened in the Arctic, spill response would be even more challenging. The Arctic’s sea ice, freezing temperatures, gale force winds, and lack of visibility could make cleanup next to impossible.


The government’s public comment period ends on July 31, so we only have 10 days to respond. We need you to tell the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to say no to risky Arctic drilling now.

Take a stand against oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean. Act now, and tell BOEM not to open additional Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling!

The Arctic Ocean and all those who depend on it are already under stress. The rapidly changing climate, including extreme deterioration of the summer sea ice, is putting Arctic marine animals at risk. Many people who live in coastal communities in the Arctic depend on a clean and healthy ocean to support their subsistence way of life. Offshore drilling for oil and gas would expose this already fragile ecosystem to significant noise, pollution and traffic.

Stand against risky oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean. Tell BOEM not to open additional Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling!

 

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Why Now is Not the Time for a New Offshore Lease Sale in the Chukchi Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/30/why-now-is-not-the-time-for-a-new-offshore-lease-sale-in-the-chukchi-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/30/why-now-is-not-the-time-for-a-new-offshore-lease-sale-in-the-chukchi-sea/#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 18:38:22 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6889

Photo: Leigh Elliot / Photo Contest 2011

Just before the government shutdown brought federal agencies to a standstill at the beginning of October, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a “call for information” for a potential new oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of northwest Alaska. A new Chukchi Sea lease sale would allow oil and gas companies to buy additional oil leases in one of the most remote and challenging environments on the planet. The response to the call for information is easy: now is not the time to sell new oil and gas lease sales in the Chukchi Sea.

The last oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea was in 2008. Since that time, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico reminded the world that when things go wrong, offshore drilling can have catastrophic consequences for fish and wildlife, marine and coastal environments, and residents of affected coastal communities. The Deepwater Horizon disaster also triggered new safety and environmental protection requirements for oil and gas companies that wish to drill in Arctic waters.

Two years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Royal Dutch Shell tried its hand at drilling in the Arctic and experienced a whole series of disasters. Among other things, a massive ice floe blocked access to one drilling site for about two weeks, the company’s drilling vessels violated their air emission permits, the drillship Discoverer suffered propulsion problems and had to be towed to port, and the drilling unit Kulluk ran aground off Kodiak Island and had to be salvaged by outside consultants. For all that, Shell failed to complete a single Arctic well.

As Shell’s 2012 drilling campaign unraveled, other oil and gas companies backed away from plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Statoil and ConocoPhillips in particular both announced that they would not consider drilling in the Chukchi Sea until 2015 at the earliest. Shell itself is still not sure when it will make another attempt to drill. In fact, its outgoing CEO recently acknowledged that Shell could abandon its Arctic leases if they prove too risky and expensive.

Shell’s 2012 drilling season also forced government regulators to acknowledge that the existing safeguards are not sufficient. Earlier this year, the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a special report that identified significant shortcomings in Shell’s Arctic drilling effort and imposed new requirements on Shell. DOI also recognized the need for new, region-specific rules to govern offshore drilling off the coast of Alaska. The agency is working to prepare those rules, but they will not be finalized for many months. The U.S. Coast Guard has launched a formal marine casualty investigation related to the grounding of the drillship Kulluk. Findings of that investigation could trigger regulatory or policy changes related to the marine transport aspects of oil exploration in the Arctic.

Both the oil and gas companies and federal regulators are still trying to determine whether and how to proceed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Shell’s failure-plagued Arctic campaign. Given the great uncertainty surrounding oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean at this time, there is simply no reason for BOEM to hold a new oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea.

Instead of trying to sell new offshore leases in a remote and risky offshore environment, BOEM should concentrate its resources on improving the rules that govern offshore drilling in Arctic waters. If BOEM continues to consider a new Chukchi Sea lease sale in 2016, it should use this “call for information” as an opportunity to identify and exclude from the lease sale areas that are especially important for Arctic wildlife and subsistence users. Join us in telling the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to call a halt to this potentially damaging act.

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BP Trial Must Send Message About Risks and Responsibility http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/04/bp-trial-must-send-message-about-risks-and-responsibility/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/04/bp-trial-must-send-message-about-risks-and-responsibility/#comments Mon, 04 Mar 2013 22:40:26 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4872

As we begin week two of BP’s trial in New Orleans, I can’t help but think back to the earliest days of the spill when oil spewed uncontrolled from the depths of the ocean and snaked its way toward shore.

I was at Incident Command in Mobile, Ala., when people were just starting to realize how serious that spill was going to be. The command center housed hundreds of people, from local elected officials to Coast Guard officers to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And of course, BP was there en masse.

It was a surreal experience, but one of my most vivid memories of that time was the look on the faces of the BP employees. It was a cross between disbelief and sheer panic. Looking into their eyes, you could tell that they literally had not thought this type of disaster could ever occur. They were really scared.

But by the end of the summer, those looks were gone. They were replaced by perfect sound bites, slick slogans and promises to “make it right.” And when the well was capped after 87 days, the story faded in most of the country, replaced by commercials about the Gulf being better than ever.

In the past three years, BP has spent inordinate amounts of time and money shirking responsibility, pointing fingers at others and downplaying the seriousness of the disaster. Now is the time for BP to be held responsible.

I’ve been waiting nearly three years for this trial. And I thought I would feel some sense of satisfaction when it finally started, but I don’t. I just can’t take pleasure in the public flogging of a company, even though BP deserves every minute of it.

Although I believe that BP must be held accountable to the full extent of the law and that they will and should be found grossly negligent, I also remember that they never meant for this to happen. BP thought that the lucrative payoff of drilling in deep water was worth the risk.

That’s why this trial must send a message about the seriousness of the risks involved when you drill in our waters.

If BP had taken these risks seriously, they never would have done things like list the Arctic-dwelling walrus as a species of concern in their planning and response documents or included the names of dead people as their response experts in the Gulf. Their arrogance and disregard for the people and natural resources of the Gulf led to this disaster.

A lot of people are asking how much BP owes the Gulf, as if there is some magical dollar amount that will make the last three years less painful or the next 20 somehow perfect.

I can’t answer that question. I don’t believe in bleeding BP for the sake of revenge, and I know that no amount of money is going to restore the Gulf without the collective commitment of the citizens, elected officials and community leaders of the region and the entire country to use the money wisely to restore the resources we rely on for our economy and our way of life.

That being said, there still must be a reckoning. Whatever the final payout ends up being, it needs to hurt the company bad enough to be a warning to everyone who wants to drill in our waters that the risks are real and serious.

The Department of Justice must send a message that when you make a mistake, you must take responsibility—even when you never meant for it to happen. We all have to learn that lesson as individuals, and we should expect nothing less from our corporations.

BP has vast resources, with profits in the billions every quarter. The fine BP ultimately pays must reflect not only the seriousness of their transgressions, it must hurt them enough to serve as a lesson to all those who drill in our waters.

For more on the BP trial as it’s happening, follow NOLA.com reporter Mark Schleifstein and Alabama Media Group reporter George Talbot on Twitter.

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Not Arctic Ready: Shell Oil Is Unprepared http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/16/not-arctic-ready-shell-oil-is-unprepared/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/16/not-arctic-ready-shell-oil-is-unprepared/#comments Thu, 16 Aug 2012 15:46:56 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2403 Arctic sea ice

© Corbis. All rights reserved.

For years, Shell has tried to carry out a risky plan to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. This summer, it looked like Shell would finally get its wish.

In June, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said that it was “highly likely” that the federal government would issue the permits Shell needs to conduct Arctic drilling operations. Later, Secretary Salazar told the New York Times that he would decide no later than August 15 whether to allow Shell to conduct exploration drilling in the Arctic this summer.

August 15 came and went, and there was no decision from Secretary Salazar. Why the delay? The delay comes because, as Ocean Conservancy and others have stated repeatedly, Shell is not ready to drill.

Despite having years to prepare, Shell has been unable to complete a series of required modifications to its oil spill containment barge. The barge, the Arctic Challenger, is an integral part of Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Arctic Ocean. But the vessel is currently undergoing modifications in Bellingham, Washington—far from the Arctic.

Until the required modifications to the vessel are complete, the Coast Guard cannot certify the vessel and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement cannot issue Shell the final permits it needs to begin drilling.

In a discussion a couple of days ago, Secretary Salazar recognized that the decision to approve or deny Shell’s final permits would be delayed beyond August 15. He placed the blame squarely on Shell, saying, “the cause for any delay here is Shell’s construction of its vessel … They have not been able to get it done.”

Shell’s inability to satisfy the Coast Guard requirements is part of a larger pattern of failures. As I wrote a few weeks ago:

  • Shell has admitted that it won’t be able to comply with the terms of its EPA air permits;
  • It has backpedaled from its claim that it will be able to clean up 90 percent of the oil released in a worst-case spill; and
  • It failed to maintain control of its 500-foot drillship—causing it to nearly run aground near Dutch Harbor.

These failures convey a clear message: Shell is not ready to drill in the Arctic.

On top of that, Shell is rapidly running out of time. One report suggests that the Arctic Challenger won’t be ready until the end of August. Even after renovations are complete, it would likely take a couple of weeks for the vessel to travel from Bellingham to the Arctic Ocean. That could mean that the Arctic Challenger would not be in place until mid-September.

The environmental community, including Ocean Conservancy, has shone a bright light on Shell’s reckless Arctic drilling plans, and we should be encouraged by the fact that Interior has taken steps to put safety first and delay its decision on allowing Shell to drill.

However, if drilling permits are eventually approved, those delays come with their own risks.

Federally approved exploration plans require Shell to stop drilling in known hydrocarbon zones in the Chukchi Sea by September 24.

In the Beaufort Sea, Shell has agreed not to drill during a subsistence hunting period that begins August 25 and could last several weeks or more. Drilling can take place after the subsistence hunting period ends, but Shell must stop drilling into oil-bearing layers in the Beaufort Sea by October 31.

Shell has said it will take between 20 and 40 days to drill its Arctic wells. Under these deadlines, Shell would have to rush to complete even a single well in the Arctic. And rushing in the Arctic is not a smart approach.

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is incredibly risky under the best of circumstances. Shell’s recent history of failures and missteps shows that the company is not ready to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

There’s no need for Secretary Salazar to delay his decision any longer: He should act now to deny Shell’s permits and keep the company out of the Arctic Ocean this summer.

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Now More Than Ever, We Need Better Arctic Science http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/28/now-more-than-ever-we-need-better-arctic-science/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/28/now-more-than-ever-we-need-better-arctic-science/#comments Thu, 28 Jun 2012 15:00:46 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1351 Large ice flows in the Arctic Ocean

© Corbis. All rights reserved.

Today the Obama administration announced a decision to include Arctic lease sales in its new five-year offshore drilling program.

This decision is disappointing — especially considering that it was just a year ago that the U.S. Geological Survey released a report outlining significant gaps in science that must be addressed to make no-regrets choices about oil and gas development in the Arctic. Many of those gaps have yet to be filled.

How can federal agencies make informed decisions about future lease sales or exploration drilling without a better understanding of the Arctic ecosystem?

A major oil spill would be devastating for this unique and exceptionally productive ecosystem and the subsistence way of life in Arctic coastal communities. Despite the Interior Department’s optimism, there is no proven capacity to effectively clean up spilled oil in icy frozen waters.

But there are a few encouraging signs in the new five-year program.

For instance, the Interior Department has pledged to shift to a more targeted approach to any future Arctic lease sales and to exclude certain areas of the Arctic Ocean from the new leasing program.

In addition, the Interior Department scheduled the potential new Arctic lease sales toward the end of the five-year program, which gives the agency time to adopt meaningful conservation measures in the region. But it’s absolutely imperative that the Interior Department use that time wisely.

Before deciding whether to proceed with any new lease sales, the agency must:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive science and monitoring program;
  • Identify and protect additional important ecological and subsistence areas; and
  • Implement Arctic-specific standards that ensure effective oil spill response in icy waters.

As the agency decides whether and under what conditions to hold future Arctic lease sales, it should consider only those areas where scientific and other evidence shows that oil and gas activities can be conducted without harming the ecosystem or opportunities for subsistence.

If we want to maintain a healthy, intact and functioning Arctic ecosystem, the Interior Department must commit to understanding and protecting this vulnerable region.

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