Trump Administration Plans Seismic Testing for Oil in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge This Winter
The plan was put forth by the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation and released by the Bureau of Land Management. The plan calls for the start of seismic testing on millions of acres, spanning an 847.8 square mile area, on the east side of the refuge in an area where polar bears and other wildlife reside. The seismic testing will allow the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation to detect the presence of oil in the area.
Seismic testing works in a way that is similar to ultrasound technology. It generates acoustic waves deep underground that produce a picture that can pinpoint oil deposits, according to The Hill.
The Bureau of Land Management said it would allow for 14 days of public comment before deciding if it should issue a permit, according to The New York Times.
Environmental activists have argued that the short timeframe means it is impossible to conduct an adequate environmental review of the proposal. The plan involves using heavy trucks fanned out across the area to create a grid pattern. It also requires a crew of 180 workers who would need ample supplies and mobile living quarters, according to The New York Times.
The National Wildlife Federation argues that the rushed comment period in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ensures that public opposition will not be heard adequately.
"This is a desperate attempt to jam through a plan that could kill denning polar bears, imperil other wildlife, threaten the Gwich'in people, and cause long-lasting damage to the Arctic," said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement. "By rushing this plan through while ordinary Americans are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and their own health and safety, it's clear this administration wants to cut the public out of public lands in order to advance its dangerously myopic and misguided energy agenda."
The company intending to conduct the seismic test said it will exercise caution should it encounter any wildlife during its exploration. Environmentalists countered that it's not the interactions that worry them as much as the permanent alterations to the Arctic tundra that could upset the delicate balance of the ecosystem that polar bears and other animals depend on.
"Allowing huge thumper trucks and camps onto sacred lands where they leave deep and lasting wounds is a threat to my people, the animals, our food, and our way of life," said Bernadette Demientieff, the executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, in a statement, as The Hill reported. "We have raised concerns repeatedly about this administration rushing the process and shortcutting our review."
The Wilderness Society also sees the plan as a politically motivated move that will silence the public.
"The submission of this application and BLM's choice to act on it so close to the election shows how desperate the administration is to turn over one of the nation's most sensitive landscapes to the oil industry," said Lois Epstein, director of the Arctic program for the Wilderness Society, in a statement, as The New York Times reported. "The federal government is recklessly rushing and irresponsibly denying the public adequate time to assess the application and submit comments."
The New York Times also noted that the proposal calls for the work to be carried out by Houston-based SAExploration, which declared bankruptcy, and was accused of accounting fraud earlier this month by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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