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Trump Administration Approves Exploratory Drilling in Arctic Ocean
The Trump administration on Wednesday approved a plan submitted by Eni US to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, setting the stage for a devastating oil spill in one of the most biologically rich areas in America's Arctic.
The company, a U.S. subsidiary of the Italian oil and gas giant, has sat on its leases in the Beaufort Sea since acquiring them more than a decade ago. The leases would have expired at the end of this year if Eni did not act on them. The Trump administration provided the public only 21 days to review and comment on the exploration plan and only 10 days to comment on scoping for an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act.
"Approving this Arctic drilling plan at the 11th hour makes a dangerous project even riskier," said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it'd be impossible to clean up. The Trump administration clearly cares only about appeasing oil companies, no matter its legal obligations or the threats to polar bears or our planet."
Under the approved plan, Eni US will drill extended reach wells into federal waters in the Beaufort Sea from an existing facility in Alaska state waters. Eni's proposed wells would be the longest extended reach wells in Alaska, reaching out more than six miles.
The drilling is planned in Harrison Bay next to the Colville River Delta. The area is home to many imperiled marine mammals, including bowhead whales, polar bears and ringed seals. Birds from all over the world, including spectacled eiders and longtailed ducks, spend summers near where Eni will drill.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to reject an exploration plan if it "would probably cause serious harm or damage to life (including fish or other aquatic life)" or to "the marine, coastal or human environment."
The Center for Biological Diversity and allies submitted comments urging the Trump administration to reject Eni's draft plan in light of the statutory standard, the risk of devastating oil spills and the fact that drilling in the Arctic will exacerbate the warming already melting the habitat of polar bears and other Arctic wildlife.
Leading climate scientists say the vast majority of untapped fossil fuels, including all Arctic oil resources, must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic, irreversible changes to the climate. Full development and burning of oil and gas from the Arctic Ocean alone could release nearly 16 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the equivalent of more than nine years of tailpipe emissions from every car and truck on the road nationwide.
Eni estimates that a large well blowout could result in an oil spill of more than 21 million gallons. Such a spill would be impossible to clean up. The Arctic lacks the infrastructure to mount a response to an oil spill; there are few roads, no deepwater ports and the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away.
"The Trump administration ignored the law in rushing to approve dangerous drilling in this remote, beautiful area," Monsell said. "We'll fight Trump's reckless giveaway of our oceans for the sake of polar bears, whales and ice seals and the fragile ecosystems where they live."
On May 3, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump's April 28 executive order purporting to revoke permanent protections for most of the Beaufort Sea and all of the Chukchi Sea from new offshore oil and gas drilling. The lawsuit is pending in federal court in Alaska. Eni's project is in the part of the Beaufort Sea not included in President Obama's withdrawal.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.