Arctic Drilling Is Stupid Business, Says New IEA Chief
The demand to keep Arctic oil and gas in the ground has become a rallying call of climate campaigners worldwide. Now, Fatih Birol, the new executive director of the powerful International Energy Agency, is questioning the global race to drill from a purely business perspective—arguing that geological and technological limitations, as well as rising costs of production, make such extraction simply unprofitable.
"I believe that Arctic oil is not for today, and not for tomorrow—maybe for the day after tomorrow," Birol told the Guardian in an article published Friday. "It’s geologically difficult, technologically difficult, lots of environmental challenges, and the cost of production is very, very high, especially if you look at the current oil price levels."
Birol did not call for a ban on the controversial drilling, but instead urged caution from a profit-making perspective.
"It should be an assessment of the oil company, whether or not they see [a business case] at those prices [for oil], or at those costs [of production]—whether or not it could be a profitable project," he stated. "I think the companies should look at all these risks combined. It is up to them to make or lose money."
Birol's statements come amid growing calls to place people and the planet over profit by leaving fossil fuels in the ground.
Such demands follow numerous scientific findings that, in order to stave off climate crisis, such resources must remain almost completely untapped. A study published earlier this year in the journal Nature by University College London researchers concluded that, in order to prevent a temperature rise of 2 °C above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times, almost all fossil fuels must stay in the ground—including 100 percent of Arctic oil and gas.
Shell's Arctic drilling bid has been met with fierce protest and direct actions, but despite these efforts, the oil giant is currently moving forward with plans for exploratory drilling. Earlier this week, Shell's chief executive Ben van Beurden told BBC that he does not expect to begin commercial drilling until at least 2020.
In response, Bill Snape, senior counsel to the Center for Biological Diversity, told Common Dreams: "When a U.S. permittee is admitting they are still half a decade away from commercial drilling, you have to wonder from an environmental point of view why we are entertaining this folly at all."
Snape added that "it is not surprising that outside the political context of campaign contributions or even outright corruption," Birol would reach the conclusion that "drilling for oil in the Arctic is absolute folly."
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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