Shell's Arctic Drilling Plans Approved by Department of Interior
It seems like the battle to save the wild and remote Arctic seas from predatory oil and gas companies never ends. Despite court cases finding it had illegally sold oil and gas exploration leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska and despite its own environmental impact study depicting the dangers of drilling there, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has opened the door to selling offshore drilling leases in the Arctic seas again. Currently there are no gas or oil operations in the Arctic seas, and environmental groups would like to keep it that way.
But this week the DOI announced that it is re-affirming the 2008 Bush-era leases opening 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea—an area about the size of Pennsylvania—to oil drilling, even though a court-ordered re-analysis showed that the environmental impacts could be far worse than previously thought.
In 2010, a federal district court in Alaska found the 20o8 lease sales violated the National Environmental Protection Act. The following year the Obama administration re-affirmed the sale. Shell attempted to start drilling operations in 2012 but was plagued with misadventures such as a drilling rig running aground. It abandoned its plans to drill in 2013 and 2014.
The leases were again shot down in court in January 2014 after 14 conservation and Native groups represented by Earthjustice brought a lawsuit against Chukchi Lease Sale 193. The court again found the impact study inadequate and determined that the DOI had only analyzed the best-case scenario that "skews the data toward fewer environmental impacts and thus impedes a full and fair discussion of the potential effects of the project.”
"Interior rushed the process of reconsidering the leases, issuing a flawed final environmental impact statement less than two months after it received hundreds of thousands of comments on the draft,"according to Earthjustice. "Rather than take the time fully to assess the impacts and alternatives of leasing in the Chukchi Sea, Interior catered to Shell Oil’s desire to drill as early as this summer."
Because the area is subject to severe and often dangerous weather conditions and is hundreds of miles from the nearest Coast Guard facility, it would be impossible to respond to or clean up an oil spill there, something the DOI's environmental impact study concluded had a 75 percent chance of happening. Given the quantity of residual oil and the ongoing ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill five years ago in the warmer and more accessible Gulf of Mexico, that's a frightening thought.
“Our Arctic ocean is flat out the worst place on Earth to drill for oil,” pointed out Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)'s Alaska director Niel Lawrence. “The world’s last pristine sea, it is both too fragile to survive a spill and too harsh and remote for effective cleanup. Shell’s disastrous misadventures there in 2012 prove it can never be a secure source of energy for America.”
"It is unconscionable that the federal government is willing to risk the health and safety of the people and wildlife that live near and within the Chukchi Sea for Shell’s reckless pursuit of oil," said Friends of the Earth's Marissa Knodel. "Shell’s dismal record of safety violations and accidents, coupled with the inability to clean up or contain an oil spill in the remote, dangerous Arctic waters, equals a disaster waiting to happen. Alaska, beware: with a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill and a 100 percent chance of environmental degradation from drilling-related activities, today’s decision foreshadows dark days to come for the state warming twice as fast as the rest of the nation."
Greenpeace's executive director Annie Leonard agrees. “Shell may now have approval from the Obama administration to drill in theArctic, but it does not have approval from the people. Millions around the world are saying ‘no’ to Arctic drilling and other extraction projects that we have to freeze to avoid catastrophic climate change. On the same day President Obama pledges to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a third, he opens the back door for one of the most irresponsible oil companies to drill in the Arctic.”
Oil spills and their impact on wildlife and the isolated Native communities that rely on the sea for their livelihood are only part of the concern of the environmental groups opposing the re-opening of the leases. They're concerned that upsetting its balance would hasten the melting of its ice cover, something drove tens of thousands of walruses ashore last fall in both Alaska and Russia, and help fuel climate change.
“Interior still has time to make a better decision when evaluating Shell’s drilling plan, and we sincerely hope it says no to Shell’s louder, bigger and dirtier tactics, loaded with potential environmental harm,"said Earthjustice staff attorney Erik Grafe. "The region is suffering dramatically under climate stress, and drilling will only further stress the region’s wildlife and people and ultimately worsen climate change."
“The industrial oil development that Interior hopes will flow from its decision to approve the Chukchi lease sale gives us a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill and a 100 percent chance of worsening the climate crisis,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “I don’t like those odds.”
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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