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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Arctic’

Amusing Monday: Celebrating polar bears

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Wednesday is International Polar Bear Day, an unofficial holiday that is gaining increasing attention as more and more people become worried about the future of this unique species.

Nobody seems to know how Polar Bear Day got started, but it has strong connections to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage and to Polar Bears International, which is leading an enthusiastic campaign to curb global warming and reduce the loss of sea ice, which may be the greatest threat to polar bears.

The campaign goes by the name Save Our Sea Ice! or just SOS!. Check out this bulletin board created by first and second graders at Carpathia School in Winnipeg.

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Arctic drilling: strange politics and inspiration

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

UPDATE, Aug. 17

Arctic drilling may be delayed until next year, because Shell’s oil-containment vessel is still not ready, according to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

“I will hold their feet to the fire in terms of making sure that we are doing everything we can to abide by the standards and regulations we have set, and to make sure that the environment and the Arctic seas are protected,” Salazar said during a press conference in Anchorage.

A shell spokesman expressed hope that the drilling would still begin this fall.

For details, see the stories by Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News and Olga Belogolova of the National Journal.
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UPDATE, July 31

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is not sitting around waiting for Shell to begin its drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. Greenpeace biologists have reported the presence of a soft coral at the drill site. I’m not sure how significant this is, but Julie Eilperin of the Washington Post has the story. Greenpeace has the photo.
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UPDATE, June 29

Shell's drilling vessel Kulluk leaves Seattle Wednesday. / Photo by Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Interior released a five-year plan for oil and gas leases yesterday, as two Shell exploratory rigs headed out of Puget Sound on their way to the Alaskan Arctic.

The Shell drilling vessels Kulluk and Noble Discoverer were headed for Alaska’s Dutch Harbor, where they will wait until the ice clears in Beaufort and Chukchi seas. See Vigor’s news release about alterations made to the two rigs.

In a news release with links to the plans, David J. Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior, said :

“We are committed to moving forward with leasing offshore Alaska, and scheduling those sales later in the program allows for further development of scientific information on the oil and gas resource potential in these areas and further study of potential impacts to the environment. We must reconcile energy resource development with the sensitive habitats, unique conditions and important other uses, including subsistence hunting and fishing, that are present in Alaska waters.”

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UPDATE, June 27
This week, the Obama administration will announce a five-year program for offshore oil-leasing. It will include targeted areas for exploration and drilling in Alaska’s Arctic, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said yesterday.

Salazar said permits to allow Shell to conduct exploratory drilling in the Arctic, as we have discussed in this blog, are likely to be issued soon.

Associated Press writer Dan Joling does a nice job explaining Salazar’s comments. See Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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UPDATE, June 22
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza has arrived in Alaskan waters. Photo posted on Twitter.
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UPDATE, June 12, 3 p.m.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza has left Seattle on its way to the Arctic, according to ongoing reports on Twitter. As of 3 p.m., the ship is just crossing the Edmonds-Kingston ferry lanes.
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UPDATE, June 12, 2:30 p.m.
I’ve added maps of the two drilling areas at the bottom of this post.
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After anchoring for nearly a week in South Kitsap’s Yukon Harbor, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on Friday moved over to Seattle, where it now waits for Shell’s oil-drilling rigs to shove off for Alaska.

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza was anchored in Yukon Harbor for nearly a week.
Photo by Tom Warren

Shell obtained an injunction (PDF 32 kb) against Greenpeace in hopes of preventing environmental activists from boarding its oil rig and unfurling banners or causing more serious damage.

Shell is clearly concerned, as outlined in legal documents (PDF 60 kb) in support of the injunction:

“After obtaining multiple approvals from various federal agencies, and after completing preparations that have been years and billions of dollars in the making, Shell intends to lawfully, safely, and responsibly carry out an exploration drilling program on its leases in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the summer of 2012.

“Greenpeace intends to prevent Shell from doing so, and has initiated tortious and illegal actions to accomplish this publically-stated intent. Greenpeace’s past and present actions establish that Greenpeace can and will engage in dangerous and illegal activities that place human life, property, and the environment at risk, all in an effort to impose its will and to capitalize on publicity generated by its antics.”

Greenpeace says its goal is to shadow the oil rigs and document the activities from miniature submarines to help the public understand the dangers that drilling poses to the fragile Arctic ecosystem. See Kitsap Sun, June 4.

For environmentalists, the biggest question is: How did this drilling ever get approval? Why did a Democratic president allow Shell to get all the permits necessary to explore for oil in the Arctic, after strong opposition through the years succeeded in keeping drilling rigs out of the Arctic.

Shell was strategic in its approach, as described in a well-researched story by John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss for the New York Times:

“Beyond the usual full-court lobbying effort, Shell abandoned its oil industry brethren and joined advocates pushing for a strong response to climate change.

“Ultimately, Shell won the backing of a president it had viewed warily during the 2008 campaign. While he signaled conditional support for the proposal years ago, Mr. Obama came under pressure from rising gasoline prices and the assiduous lobbying of a freshman Democratic senator from Alaska eager to show he could make things happen in Washington.

“The move also provides the president a measure of political cover. ‘Alaska tends to be a litmus test for the energy debate,’ said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of energy policy research at Rice University. ‘When Romney says the president is anti-drilling and causes high gas prices, Obama can turn around and say, “I approved drilling in Alaska.”’”

By executive order, Obama set up a special interagency commission to oversee “the safe and responsible development of onshore and offshore energy resources and associated infrastructure in Alaska.”

Obama’s steady pressure in favor of drilling in the Arctic (“It’s not deep water, right?”) eventually overcame concerns within his own administration, despite warnings from the commission investigating the BP oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the NY Times article:

“The commission’s final report said that for Arctic drilling to be done safely, ‘both industry and government will have to demonstrate standards and a level of performance higher than they have ever achieved before.’ …

“The government strengthened its Arctic research programs to better understand the impact of increased industrial activity in the northern ocean. Those and other concessions seemed to placate officials at the permitting agencies, who were navigating between their regulatory duties and the president’s obvious desire to drill.

“Shell’s permits came in a rush. Interior approved exploration in both seas by last December. Response plans were endorsed in February and March of this year. The EPA’s appeals board cleared the final air permits at the end of March — just as the whaling season got under way. NOAA came through with a marine mammal permit in early May.”

As far as I can tell, Shell is waiting only for its final drilling permits from the Department of Interior and for the ice to clear in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Shell's oil-drilling rig Kulluk prepares to head for Alaska. This photo was taken last year on its way into Seattle.
AP file photo, 2011

As Shell’s oil rigs prepare to pull out of Seattle, Alaska’s governor and the state’s two U.S. senators recently visited Seattle to take a look at Shell’s oil rigs on the eve of the historic drilling activity, as reported by Jennifer A. Dlouhy of the Houston Chronicle.

Dlouhy quoted Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, as expressing confidence in Shell’s ability to drill safely: “I think they know as well as anybody that there is no margin for cutting corners.”

The article also included environmental concerns about an oil spill in the fragile Arctic ecosystem, which could be worse than the Exxon Valdez in Prince Williams Sound, where oil is still showing up 23 years after a multibillion-dollar cleanup.

“If there is a spill in the Arctic, the oil and damage will almost certainly degrade slower and last longer,” Richard Steiner, former marine conservation professor at the University of Alaska was quoted as saying.

A new story out this morning in Macleans magazine includes an interview with Peter Voser, chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell, who touches briefly on this summer’s drilling in the Arctic:

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Amusing Monday: Between polar bears and penguins

Monday, August 1st, 2011

In searching for amusing material, I came to realize that polar bears and penguins have developed an amazing friendship — at least in cartoons and amusing videos.

The examples are numerous, and I’ll share some of my favorites with you now:

1. A dancing bear who has moved in with a penguin angers the bird with his wasteful use of water. This video was produced for Environment Agency UK. (Click on the video player at right. And, of course, the “full screen” version is available.)

2. Apparently, a male polar bear can develop a close cross-species relationship with a female penguin, but he’d better watch what he says. The second video on this page is from 4Mations, another UK website dedicated to interesting and funny cartoons.

3. Friendship. Did I mention friendship? Check out this shocking promo for King Pundit.

4. Who can forget the Coke commercial in which the polar bear family accidentally invades a Christmas party being held by a large group of penguins?

5. Here’s one called “Cold Friendship,” but I have to admit that its subtle message runs a little too deep for me to locate.

6. Animal Planet’s series called “Animals Save the Planet” includes a cartoon about the benefits of energy-saving light bulbs. I’m not sure if the penguin is a slave or just enjoys a lot of exercise.

7. Someone put a couple of wildlife videos together to demonstrate the different lifestyles of penguins and polar bears. (By the way, I’ve heard that polar bears crawl along thin ice to reduce the risk of breaking through.)

While I enjoy all this paring of polar bears and penguins, I have to wonder how they ever got together. Polar bears live in the Arctic on the top side of the world, while penguins live in the Antarctic on the bottom.

Copyright David Farley. Used with permission of the artist.

Cartoonist Dave Farley has his own vision about what would happen if these two species ever got together. See cartoon at right. Check out Dave’s complete archive of cartoons at the Dr. Fun website.

Now on a more serious note, an online magazine called “Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears” has been written for elementary school teachers who wish to integrate science and literature. It’s a good place for anyone to learn about the polar regions of the Earth. According to the website’s creators, the first step toward understanding the two poles is to “develop a sense of place,” realizing that the Arctic and Antarctic are very different environments.


U.S. Navy becomes serious about climate change

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

If the world’s leaders were to learn that all civilizations on Earth were going to be attacked by alien beings from outer space, and if they knew they had only a few years to respond, what do you think they would do?

Would they search for evidence to show that aliens could not possibly exist, declare the idea a hoax and insist that any defense of our planet would not be worth the cost? Or would they study ALL the evidence, analyze the risks and look for the best way to address the uncertain crisis?

I keep thinking about this hypothetical alien scenario when I hear certain members of Congress ignoring climate change and essentially spitting in the face of climate scientists by calling their best research a “hoax.”

Greenhouse warming may seem like an alien concept to some people, but here’s my point: If you run and hide until the aliens have landed, you face a much greater peril than if you face the problem in a practical way.

Now I’m all for discussing the many uncertainties — such as how high ocean waters may rise under various assumptions. But please don’t tell me that some basement scientist has disproved the idea that temperatures are rising or has shown that humans could not possibly affect the Earth’s climate.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Would those who turn their backs on climate change act the same way if the entire Earth were under attack from a common enemy? Maybe our nation’s leaders would be better able to deal with a direct attack, uncomplicated by the uncertainties of science.

That’s more than I wanted to say about people who choose to ignore climate change. What I really wanted to write about is the U.S. Navy’s serious approach to the topic, which can provide an example for the rest of us.

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Solving the soot problem could reduce warming at the poles

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Scientists have discovered that plain old soot — otherwise known as “black carbon” — could be an important factor in explaining the rapid melting of Arctic ice.

<i>Soot may speed melting of Arctic ice, a new report says.</i><br><small> Photo by Adam Markham, Clean Air - Cool Planet</small>

Soot may be speeding the melting of Arctic ice, according to a new report.
Photo by Adam Markham, Clean Air - Cool Planet

In a report released today at an international meeting in Norway, scientists say black carbon could be part of the reason that the northern region is melting faster than climate models predict.

Given that black carbon comes from older diesel fuels, burning wood and crop debris, and flaring of natural gas wells, governments in the Northern Hemisphere have the potential of reducing the rate of warming in the Arctic even without a major reduction in carbon dioxide.

“The good news,” states reporter Bob Weber in a story for the Canadian Press, “is that black carbon could be relatively easy to clean up. That would buy the international community time to deal with the much more complex issue of carbon dioxide emissions.”

He quotes Lars-Otto Reiersen, who worked on the report: “There are easy to put in place some actions that can be in operation within a few years while you are getting the CO2 negotiations in place.”

One organization called Clean Air – Cool Planet is calling attention to this issue. See a fact sheet (PDF 64 kb) addressing the issue of short-lived pollutants (including soot, ozone and methane), or go to the group’s Web site.

It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out, but leaders of major countries in the hemisphere have pledged to work together on the problem.

A news release from Clean Air – Cool Planet includes this:

“People concerned about the rapid deterioration of the Arctic region because of warming and melting there have something to celebrate,” said Arctic authority Brooks Yeager, vice president for policy at Clean Air – Cool Planet. “Short-lived forcers (SLFs) and their role in climate change in the Arctic was a major part of this meeting, and the ministers agreed to create a task force that will look at furthering the science and implementing immediately available solutions.

“Science has been telling us for some time that these so-called ‘short-lived forcers’ are speeding up warming and melting in the Arctic,” Yeager said. “This in turn has exacerbated climate change in the rest of the globe, and caused huge changes to ecosystems in the Arctic region, endangering species, natural resources, and cultures.”


Arctic geopolitics explored in a U.S. News article

Friday, October 10th, 2008

There is nothing like a weekly news magazine to explore the breadth and depth of an issue, as U.S. News and World Report has done in a story titled “Global Warming Triggers an International Race for the Arctic.”

The magazine piece, written by Thomas Omestad, discusses a treasure of oil and minerals, scientific discoveries, commercial potential and possible geopolitical clashes. I recommend it to anyone interested in the confluence of global warming and international intrigue.

A map of this remote area shows how the legendary Northwest Passage could become an important route between the East and West coasts.

After describing some strategic flurries in the Arctic by Russia and Canada, Omestad offers this observation:

The United States, for its part, has not acted with the same urgency. “We are behind when it comes to what is happening with our other Arctic neighbors,” says Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The lagging begins with the Law of the Sea convention. Despite Bush administration support, Senate ratification of the 1982 treaty remains blocked by conservative Republicans fearful that the treaty will give away American sovereignty. The other four Arctic coastal states have adopted the convention and are eligible to file their claims for economic control.

The Pentagon has also appeared slow to focus on the region. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains just two working icebreakers, with another docked until repairs are authorized. The question of expanding the icebreaker force has been left unanswered, while a broader, interagency review of Arctic policy has continued for nearly two years….

I recently cited some sketchy stories about this subject on Watching Our Water Ways. Now this U.S. News article has placed the issue into the appropriate context. If the prescribed dominoes begin to fall, international tensions will no doubt rise in this remote part of the Earth.


Now for a taste of geopolitics in the Far North

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

With vast oil reserves waiting to be taken from the Arctic, it is interesting to read about Russia’s saber-rattling and implications for the United States, Canada and other countries that want to claim a piece of what lies below the frozen earth.

I don’t know much about geopolitics in the Arctic — and I may be reading too much into recent news stories I’ve seen — but there may be something going on in the world that we should watch.

The following is from a story written last week by Randy Boswell of Canwest News Service in Canada:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev directed his top Kremlin officials to develop a comprehensive and assertive strategy to exploit the region’s vast Arctic frontier — including the demarcation of boundaries and the exploiting of polar resources …

Initial reports of Mr. Medvedev’s address to Russia’s national security council suggested he was advocating unilateral action to secure Arctic territory at a time when the five polar nations — including Canada — are collecting geological data for planned sea floor territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Later in the same piece, there is a discussion about Russian aircraft invading Canadian air space in Far North.
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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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