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Trump Plans to Aggressively Expand Offshore Drilling in Protected Areas

President Trump plans to sign an executive order today intended to aggressively expand drilling in protected waters off the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

The new EO will direct U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke to review the current offshore drilling plans, which limits most drilling to parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Cook Inlet, and reexamine opening parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to drilling. The EO will also roll back President Obama's permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic, issued in the last full month of his presidency. Zinke cautioned reporters that implementation of the EO will be "a multi-year effort," and several groups have pledged lawsuits to further slow down the process.

"Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is dead wrong," said Greenpeace USA senior climate and energy campaigner Diana Best.

"Renewable energy already has us on the right track to energy independence, and opening new areas to offshore oil and gas drilling will lock us into decades of harmful pollution, devastating spills like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and a fossil fuel economy with no future. Scientific consensus is that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves—including the oil and gas off U.S. coasts—must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change."

Best added that Trump's latest executive order does not have popular support, and instead caters to "Trump's inner circle of desperate fossil fuel executives."

"Holing up at Mar-a-lago may protect Trump from an oil spill," she said, "but it will not protect him and his cabinet of one percenters from the millions of people in this country—from California to North Carolina—who will resist his disastrous policies."

Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi agrees. "This attempt to greatly expand offshore drilling into the Arctic and Atlantic is a blatant prioritization of fossil fuel profits over the health of our climate and coastal communities," he said. "President Trump is ignoring the cries of citizens who have said offshore drilling poses too great a threat to their economies and ways of life."

For a deeper dive:

New York Times, AP, Axios, Politico, NPR, LA Times, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, ThinkProgress

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Extreme Arctic Melt Could Increase Sea Level Rise Twice as Fast as Previously Estimated

Extreme Arctic melt could increase global sea level rise twice as fast as previously estimated and cost the world economy between $7 trillion and $90 trillion by 2100, a new analysis shows.

The assessment from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program projects that increased ice melt in the Arctic could contribute to an overall 20 to 29 inches of global sea level rise over the next century—nearly double the minimum estimates provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Arctic warmed faster than any other region on earth between 2011-2015 and the assessment speculates that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in the summer by 2040.

"The Arctic is continuing to melt, and it's going faster than expected in 2011," Lars-Otto Reiersen, head of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) which prepared the report, told Reuters.

"Multi-year ice used to be a big consolidated pack. It's almost like a big thick ice cube versus a bunch of crushed ice. When you warm the water, the crushed ice melts a lot quicker."

For a deeper dive:

InsideClimate News, Reuters, Miami Herald

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Our Plastic Habit Now Pollutes the Arctic Ocean

Ocean plastic has reached the northernmost ends of the earth. The remote and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean are also being inundated by this form of non-biodegradable pollution.

According to a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, currents carrying trash, originating mostly from the North Atlantic, are flowing north into the Greenland and Barents Seas. An estimated 300 billion bits of plastic debris has accumulated in those waters, in sea ice or even the seafloor.

Researchers from the University of Cádiz in Spain and several other institutions found that in some parts of the Greenland and Barents Seas, concentrations of plastic were in the hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer. The researchers dubbed the region a "dead end for this plastic conveyor belt."

"It's only been about 60 years since we started using plastic industrially, and the usage and the production has been increasing ever since. So most of the plastic that we have disposed of in the ocean is still now in transit to the Arctic," said Carlos Duarte, one of the study's co-authors and director of the Red Sea Research Center at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

The scientists warned that climate change could make the problem worse as rising temperatures melt sea ice.

"The growing level of human activity in an increasingly warm and ice-free Arctic, with wider open areas available for the spread of microplastics, suggests that high loads of marine plastic pollution may become prevalent in the Arctic in the future," the paper stated.

The multinational team of scientists analyzed plastic debris from survey sites around the Arctic Ocean. Most of the plastic was in tiny fragments, mostly ranging from 0.5 millimeters to 12.6 millimeters. Fishing line, film or pellets were also uncovered.

Lead author Andrés Cózar Cabañas, a professor of biology at the University of Cádiz, told the New York Times that he was both surprised and worried about the results.

"We don't fully understand the consequences the plastic is having or will have in our oceans," he said. "What we do know is that these consequences will be felt at greater scale in an ecosystem like this" because it is unlike any other on Earth.

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The Prirazlomnaya platform is the first Russian project for developing the Arctic shelf. Credit: Gazprom

Exxon Seeks to Bypass U.S. Sanctions to Drill in Russia

By Nika Knight

Exxon is applying for a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to bypass U.S. sanctions against Russia and resume offshore drilling in the Black Sea with the Russian oil company Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Among those charged with deciding to grant the permit is Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who previously oversaw the company's Russia operations.

"Ka-ching! Payout time," tweeted Rachel Maddow in response to the Wall Street Journal report.

Exxon was previously granted a permit to bypass the sanctions in 2014. Tillerson has said that he would recuse himself from Russia-related matters for two years as Secretary of State.

The permit application also comes as calls grow for a government shutdown over the ties between Trump advisors and Russian officials. The FBI is currently investigating the Trump campaign's Russia connections.

And beyond the Trump campaign's apparent Russia ties and the implications of Tillerson's potential role in granting his former company the permit, environmentalists also pointed out the devastating climate impacts of further drilling in the Black Sea.

"If the Trump administration allows Exxon to move forward with extreme offshore oil drilling in Russia despite sanctions, the United States Congress must resist," said Greenpeace USA climate liability campaigner Naomi Ages in a statement. "Removing barriers to Exxon drilling in the Russian Black Sea with a state-controlled company like Rosneft would not only jeopardize global progress on climate change and provide momentum for a similar waiver in the Russian Arctic, it would also send a message to Russia that it can intervene in any country, including the United States, with no consequences."

"Members of Congress must stand up for the separation of oil and state," Ages urged.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Alaska Senators Introduce Bill to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling in Arctic Ocean and Cook Inlet

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans from Alaska, have introduced legislation to expand oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and Cook Inlet, putting fragile ecosystems and endangered wildlife at risk.

In December, President Obama permanently protected large areas of U.S. waters in the Arctic from oil and gas drilling. The new bill—Senate Bill 883—would effectively cancel these protections and force the Department of the Interior to quickly approve new oil and gas leasing.

"It's not possible to drill safely in the Arctic, as we just saw from the leaking oil and gas well on the North Slope," said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean programs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This legislation's nothing more than a giveaway to oil companies. It'll hurt Alaska's healthy habitat and endangered wildlife."

S. 883 would require Interior to add at least three leases each in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and one in Cook Inlet to each five-year leasing plan. The agency would be required to establish a new near-shore Beaufort planning area with annual lease sales for the next three years.

The bill would also overturn President Obama's decision to stop exploration and drilling permanently in most of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. These areas are home to several endangered species, including polar bears and bowhead whales.

"If we let oil companies drill the Arctic, a catastrophic oil spill is just a matter of time," Sakashita said. "It's shameful that the Alaska congressional delegation has so little regard for the horrendous damage the oil industry could do to this fragile ecosystem and the people who live and work along this coast."

Leading climate scientists say the vast majority of untapped fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic, irreversible changes to the climate. Unleased federal waters contain an estimated 75 billion barrels of crude oil, more than twice that of unleased federal lands. Stopping the expansion of new leases in federal waters would keep 61.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and oceans.

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Photo credit: University of Alberta

22,000 Years of Climate History Melt Away After Freezer Malfunction

Ice cores containing tens of thousands of years of invaluable climate information melted away after an "unprecedented" double malfunction of a CAD $4 million (USD $3 million) storage facility at the University of Alberta in Canada.

The warming left "pools of water all over the floor and steam in the room," Martin Sharp, a university glaciologist, told ScienceInsider. "It was like a changing room in a swimming pool."

The oldest ice core that was damaged was 22,000 years old, along with ones that were 17,000 years of age and 500 years of age.

Sharp said that the cores would each cost between $500,000 and $1 million to replace due to the difficulty of operating in the remote Arctic.

The university confirmed the April 2 incident, noting in a press release that 12.8 percent of the 1,409-meter Canadian Ice Core Archive—the world's largest collection of ice cores samples from the Canadian Arctic—was damaged from the freezer failure.

However, the warming did not damage the whole of any of the cores, which are stored in multiple one-meter segments.

University of Alberta scientists describe their recently acquired ancient ice core collection as "a tape recorder of climatic history." The ice cores, some as old as 80,000 years, can provide crucial information about the past as well as important predictions about the future.

"The loss of any ice core sample is deeply concerning to the University of Alberta and to our research teams, who plan to use this ice to answer important questions about climate change and our planet's history," said Andrew Sharman, vice-president of facilities and operations.

University of Alberta Protective Services and the Edmonton Fire Service responded to a high-heat alarm on the afternoon of the incident. Temperature in the storage freezer had reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), resulting in the damage to the ice core samples.

"Essentially, the chillers were not able to reject their heat through the condenser water system—heat instead of cold circulated through the freezer," the university said in its release. "Compounding matters, the system monitoring the freezer temperatures failed due to a database corruption. The freezer's computer system was actually sending out alarm signals that the temperature was rising, but those signals never made it to the university's service provider or the on-campus control centre."

Sharman said that the affected freezer has been restored and an investigation is ongoing to "ensure this does not happen again."

Incidentally, as the Guardian reported, the majority the collection escaped damage because of a fortunate stroke of luck:

A television crew had been documenting the ice core move and had asked that the samples be put in a second freezer because the lighting was better. The university complied, storing nearly 90 percent of the collection in an unaffected freezer.

"That's basically what saved us," Sharp remarked.

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A coastal glacier in southern Greenland mirrored in the sea. Photo credit: Claire Rowland via Flickr

Greenland's Coastal Glaciers in Terminal Decline

By Tim Radford

By the century's end, some of Greenland's ice will have vanished forever.

New research shows that the coastal glaciers and ice caps are melting faster than ever before and may have already reached the point of no return two decades ago. That is because they have passed the stage at which they can refreeze their own meltwater.

These peripheral glaciers and icecaps cover an estimated 100,000 square kilometers of the island. And when they have gone, the world's oceans will have risen by four centimeters.

Body of Greenland ice

But scientists reporting in Nature Communications journal said most of the Greenland ice—the biggest body of ice in the northern hemisphere—is still safe. Were all of its ice to melt, sea levels would rise by at least seven meters.

"Higher altitudes are colder, so the highest ice caps are still relatively healthy at the moment," said study leader Brice Noël, a PhD student of polar glaciology and Arctic climate modeling at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

"However, we see melting occur higher and higher. That's a big problem, because that 'melting line' is moving towards the altitude where most of the ice mass is.

"The main ice sheet in the interior of Greenland is much more elevated and isn't doing too bad yet. But we can already see an increase in the altitude of the 'melting line' there as well."

The coastal research concentrated on the mechanics of ice loss. Normally, glaciers and ice caps grow because summer meltwater drains through into the deeper frozen snow and freezes again. The icecap retains its mass and even increases.

But 20 years ago, the firn, or older snow, became saturated, freezing right through, and more summer meltwater now runs to the sea. The rate of increase varies from 17 to 74 percent and the icecaps each year are losing three times the mass loss measured in 1997.

Concern about Greenland ice and glaciers being in retreat is not new. In fact, glaciers in both hemispheres are observed to be in retreat, and the Geological Society of America has just published telltale imagery and an analysis based on observations of more than 5,200 glaciers in 19 regions around the world, showing that the loss of ice mass this century is without precedent.

So Greenland's glaciers are just part of a bigger picture. But since Greenland is home to the second largest volume of ice on the planet, what happens there concerns the entire world.

Testimony to climate change

Researchers observed years ago that the rivers of Greenland ice are in spate and rates of melting are thought likely to accelerate. The latest report is another piece of testimony to climate change in the far north.

"These peripheral glaciers and ice caps can be thought of as colonies of ice that are in rapid decline, many of which will likely disappear in the near future," said Ian Howat, a glaciologist at Ohio State University in the U.S. and a co-author of the report.

"In that sense, you could say that they're 'doomed.' However, the ice sheet itself is still not 'doomed' in the same way. The vast interior ice sheet is more climatologically isolated than the surrounding glaciers and ice caps.

"Also, since this 'tipping point' was reached in the late 1990s before warming really took off, it indicates that these peripheral glaciers are very sensitive and, potentially, ephemeral relative to the timescales of response of the ice sheet."

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BP Global

BP Arctic Oil Well Still Leaking, Too Unstable to Shut Down

BP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials spent the holiday weekend trying to repair a leaking oil well on Alaska's North Slope. Officials said the well is too unstable to shut down because of frigid temps in the high Arctic, but have released the pressure on one of the main leaks.

It appears that 1.5 acres of the remote area near Deadhorse, Alaska have been affected by the spill. Native communities were notified and non-essential workers were forced to evacuate. However, no injuries to crew or wildlife have been reported.

"Crews are on the scene and are developing plans to bring the well under control," said BP spokesperson Brett Clanton, in a release on Saturday. "Safety will remain our top priority as we move through this process."

There were initially two main leaks, one near the top of the rig that was releasing methane and the other down the assembly line spraying crude oil in a mist over the ice. Officials were able to detect both leaks using infrared cameras.

"Based on an overflight with infrared cameras, the release appears to be contained to the gravel pad surrounding the wellhead and has not reached the tundra," Clanton said.

Crews are still getting the situation under control and no updates have been reported in the last 12 hours.

As natural gas operations have begun taking shape in Alaska, reports of leaks have become more frequent. There had been an ongoing, very large leak occurring at Cook Inlet, which was spewing 210,000 cubic feet of gas per day for nearly four months, but finally Hilcorp Alaska announced Friday that a temporary repair has stopped the leak. However, the effects on marine life, including critically endangered beluga whales, is still unknown.

"Oil companies continue to treat Alaska with reckless abandonment, threatening its pristine waters, wildlife and communities," said Dan Ritzman, director of Sierra Club's Alaska Program.

"Big Oil has repeatedly proven it can't drill for fossil fuels safely, it has repeatedly proven they can't transport it safely, and it has repeatedly proven they can't be trusted with the safety and well-being of the state and its habitat. It's past time that Donald Trump and his friends in the fossil fuel industry put Alaska ahead of corporate polluter's profits which only threaten the state's beauty and environment."

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