Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Canadian Arctic fails to yield diamond boom

A 78-carat diamond found in BHP Billiton's Ekati diamond mine in the Northwest Territories.

When huge diamond deposits were discovered in the Canadian Arctic in the early 1990s, geologists were optimistic there would be many more to come.

It didn’t happen. Despite massive spending on exploration, no large mine has been discovered in the territories in almost 15 years, and the diamond boom never lived up to its initial promise.

BHP Billiton Ltd. admitted as much Tuesday as it announced it will study a potential sale of its Ekati mine in the Northwest Territories. Ekati is a great asset and is performing well, but after years of “extensive” exploration, BHP was never able to follow up with another big discovery. With Ekati set to run out of diamonds near the end of the decade, BHP will review whether it should get out of the business.

“BHP has been singularly unsuccessful [in diamond exploration], and they’ve thrown a lot of money and resources at it in Canada and elsewhere,” said Patrick Evans, chief executive of Mountain Province Diamonds Inc. “But it’s no particular judgment on BHP’s skills. Everyone has been unsuccessful.”

Ekati is one of three operating diamond mines in the Northwest Territories (along with Diavik and Snap Lake) and they were all found in the 1990s. Mountain Province’s Gahcho Kué project (a joint venture with De Beers) is likely to be the fourth, but that discovery also dates back to the 1990s.

Since then, many junior companies have made initial finds in the Far North that got investors excited, but eventually fizzled out.

One new mine called Jericho actually opened in 2006, but was forced to shut down less than two years later after numerous operating problems.

The three existing mines have transformed the economy of the NWT (mining is about a third of the province’s GDP) even if the overall impact of diamond mining has disappointed.

Looking forward, one of the most promising Arctic discoveries right now is Chidliak, a joint venture between BHP and Peregrine Diamonds Ltd. in Nunavut. There will be questions about the future direction of that project if BHP decides to get out.

After BHP’s announcement Tuesday, industry insiders focused on what Ekati is worth, and who would buy the mine if it is put on the block.

The mine has generated average earnings (before interest and taxes) of about US$500-million over the past two years, meaning that it is very profitable and spins off plenty of cash. However, it is due to close in 2019, and any buyer would have to inherit the environmental liabilities that go along with closing a large mine.

“It’s a tough call on the valuation, and whoever buys it will be saying that there’s more [diamonds] to find,” said Des Kilalea, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

Mr. Evans said he suspects BHP will want US$1.5-billion to US$2-billion for its 80% stake in Ekati, though analysts tossed out many other numbers.

He suggested the logical buyers are either De Beers or Rio Tinto Ltd., as they both have existing mines in the NWT and know how to operate in that environment (Rio could also buy the mine jointly with Harry Winston Diamond Corp. through their Diavik partnership).

“If it’s cheap enough, they’ll buy it. But BHP won’t walk away from half a billion dollars of free cash flow a year for a song,” he said. “My sense is it’s probably unlikely we’ll see a transaction.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

VIDEO - Dick Proenneke - Alone in the Wilderness - Dick Proenneke's simple, yet profound account of his 30 year adventure in the remote Alaska wilderness continues in this sequel to "Alone in the Wilderness". Watch through his eyes as he continues to document with his 16mm wind-up Bolex camera, capturing his own amazing craftsmanship, the stunning Alaskan wildlife and scenery and even a visit from his brother Ray (Jake). His epic journey takes you on a vacation away from the hustle and bustle of today's fast-paced society, and is a true breath of fresh air.

Bob Swerer has taken the best footage from Dick's films and he has created 4 videos about Dick, "Alone in the Wilderness", "Alaska, Silence and Solitude" "The Frozen North", and now "Alone in the Wilderness part II". You can purchase all of them in DVD format from the website.

2007 Northwest Passage Reunion

2007 Northwest Passage Reunion

Cloud Nine becomes the first American sailing vessel in history to transit the Northwest Passage from east to west.
by Roger Swanson
Cruising World
David Thoreson
My wife, Gaynelle Templin (second from left), was part of the crew that helped guide Cloud Nine through the Northwest Passage on the boat’s third attempt. So, too, were Chris Parkman (left), David Thoreson, and Doug Finley.
Our crew consisted of Doug Finley, Chris Parkman, David Thoreson, Matt Drillio, and Gaynelle Templin. Gaynelle deserves special mention because we were married in March 1996, and she’s become a regular crewmember on all Cloud Ninepassages since that date. We met in 1994, and after making two passages together, the subject of marriage came up. We decided it was a good idea, although she insisted that part of the marriage contract had to be that I would take her around the world. I agreed, and the recessional at our wedding was “Anchors Aweigh.” Just two weeks later, we sailed east from Gibraltar, where Cloud Nine had spent the winter, thus beginning what was to be our west-to-east honeymoon circumnavigation.
At the reunion, we reviewed the highlights of all three Northwest Passage endeavors. We made attempts in 1994 and 2005, both of which were turned back by ice, but the third, in 2007, was finally successful. Once we’d transited the Passage’s northernmost waterways, we recalled Chris’ words when we were anchored in the shelter of Nunavak Island, in the Bering Sea, during a serious blow. At the time, we were quite secure, but the anemometer at the top of our mast was registering gusts over 50 knots from the south, the direction in which we were headed. Recalling that we’d been stuck in Nome for nine days while waiting for the wind to drop below 30 knots, Chris said, “I think we’re better off here than in Nome. That island is bigger than Nome’s breakwater.”
Doug also made a memorable observation upon our approach to Kodiak, Alaska, near the end of the Passage run. “What a nice way to get to Kodiak,” he said, pausing a beat for emphasis. “From Halifax, Nova Scotia.” Cloud Nine became the first American sailing vessel in history to transit the Northwest Passage from east to west, pulling it off in one season.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Going to the Arctic? Come see for yourself before its to late - deadline is December 1, 2011


One World One Ocean and MacGillivray Freeman Films take you "To The Arctic." See sneak preview footage from the film with producer Shaun MacGillivray. Coming to IMAX® theatres in 2012.

To The Arctic 3D, a film from Warner Bros. Pictures, MacGillivray Freeman Films, and IMAX Corporation, is an extraordinary journey to the top of the world where a family is struggling for survival. Follow a mother polar bear and her two cubs as they navigate the changing Arctic wilderness they call home.

Film Companion Book—Available Nov. 15

The perfect companion to the IMAX® film, this breath-taking book of photography, To The Arctic, presents the story of life in the Arctic Circle through the lens of award-winning wildlife photographer Florian Schulz. Available November 15 from Braided River.

Sneak preview footage from To The Arctic 3D can be seen in the new Arctic Home campaign from Coca-Cola and World Wildlife Fund. One World One Ocean supports the Arctic Home effort--a bold new effort that is raising awareness and funds for polar bear habitat conservation. Learn how you can help protect the polar bear’s Arctic home.

M/V GREY GOOSE departs this coming summer from Mobile Alabama on a 10,000 nautical-mile voyage through Greenland then "over-the-top" through the fabled Arctic Northwest Passage during the late summer season before turning south through Alaska and the 'Inside Passage' to reach home port in Astoria Oregon.

Would you like to join us - come crew aboard a 55 foot private steel long range expedition yacht...
'Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that youdidn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.'- Mark Twain
Deadline to join is December 1, 2011 - view the expedition website for details at:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

MIT dye technology to change solar world

MIT has perfected a dye technology that could change the solar world as we know it.

The most efficient form of solar technology today is (arguably) extreme concentrated photovoltaics, essentially solar panels placed under a magnifying glass. But the problem with these systems is heat.
Concentrated sunlight can melt silicon solar panels unless you include specialized cooling systems. Cooling technology costs money, and the panels require expensive tracking mechanisms to follow the sun through the day. MIT’s new solar systembypasses the heat and tracking problems all together.
Thin coatings of organic dyes absorb sunlight and redirect favored wavelengths into a pane of glass. The light is aimed and concentrated towards the edge of the pane where small solar panels are located. The concentrated light allows the panels to produce the maximum possible amount of energy all day, every day without cooling systems or complex tracking mechanisms.
solar dye technology
The idea is not new, but its founders in the 70s could not overcome technical challenges. The technology was abandoned when research funding dried up. Their dyes were unstable, and their optical experise was imperfect. Much of the light captured and concentrated into their glass or plastic was lost before it could reach the solar cells. MIT took tips from laser technology and organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) to perfect the technology.Their expertise increased the distance light can travel through glass or plastic to reach the solar panels, boosting energy production.
“In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell “by a factor of over 40.”" According to Marc A Baldo, an associate professorat MIT who helped lead the project. For more technical details, you may need an AAAS membership to read the Science article.

Three Reasons Why This Could Rock the Solar World:

1) It’s Easy: The technology is neither complex or difficult to manufacture. All you need is a window frame laced with solar panels and an ordinary pane of glass or plastic. Apply the proper ratios of organic dyes and you’re ready to go. The finished product looks like smoked glass and could be used on rooftops or solar farms. Future improvements could bring them to ordinary windows. Hopefully it will be competitive in price with other solar technologies.
2) Upgrade Existing Solar: This technology can be applied to existing photovoltaic panels to boost their efficiency by as much as 50% with minimal additional cost. Upgrading existing solar panels will not only boost their energy output, but shift their cost/energy ratios. That means that even older, more expensive solar installations could become more competitive with non-renewable energy sources.
3) It’s Coming Soon: MIT claims this technology could be ready for commercial production within three years. A company has already been founded to capitalize on the technology, and it won two prizes at MIT’s Enterpreneurship Competition, totaling $30,000. They will also seek more investment over the next few months. Keep your eyes peeled for Covalent Solar.
But nothing is certain. Like any new technology, this one has its challenges ahead. The dyes, for example, have a demonstrated lifespan of ten years, but most solar panels come with twenty or twenty-five year warranties. Covalent Solar must also run the gamut of any fledgling business to bring their product to market. With so many improving and emerging solar technologies, they will face a lot of competition.
What makes this technology different is its implications for existing solar installations and expansion into new spaces. A window that helps power a building could become a powerful tool towards super-efficient or power-producing structures. The potential for low cost, high efficiency solar technologies has never been greater.
Images via the MIT website

Small Wind Turbine Gets AWEA Certification

Small wind turbines have been booming, as we’ve reported a few times this year. But, up to now, there hasn’t been much independent evaluation of how well these small turbines perform, or how safe they are. Apparently, that’s changing.
bergey small wind turbine certified
10 kW Bergey Excel 10 Wind Turbine for Homes, Farms, and Small Businesses (Photo: Business Wire)
Bergey Windpower, “the nation’s oldest manufacturer of small wind turbines,” announced this week that its “best-selling” BWC Excel 10 wind turbine has now received full “AWEA Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard” certification — it’s the first to get this certification.
“This new standard is the most significant milestone in the history of the small wind industry because it provides, for the first time, third-party verification of real world performance and a highly technical review of a turbine’s strength and safety,” said Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Windpower and the 2011 president of the Distributed Wind Energy Association. “This is huge for consumers because it addresses the ‘hucksters and hype’ problem in the small wind marketplace. We are very proud to be the first to achieve this game-changing certification.” Agreed.
More from the news release:
The Bergey Excel 10 is a 23 ft diameter horizontal-axis turbine designed to provide the annual energy requirements for homes, farms, and small businesses. More than 2,000 Excel turbines have been installed in 46 states and more than 50 countries. It has only three moving parts, requires no annual maintenance, and was the first small wind turbine to carry a 10-year warranty. Excel owners include hundreds of homeowners and farmers, schools, museums, state and federal parks, all branches of the U.S. military, major corporations, and a number of celebrities. One very happy customer is Gus Sansone of Oak Hills, CA, “I installed my Bergey 10 kW in 2001. I haven’t paid an electric bill since the turbine was installed and it’s paid for itself. It’s the best investment I ever made.”
The AWEA standard was developed over a five year period by a committee of over 30 individuals drawn from industry, research organizations, universities, retailers, and users. The U.S. standard, which references a number of existing international (IEC) standards, has been adopted in Canada and, with some minor changes, in the United Kingdom. “For consumers the primary benefit is the establishment of a set of easy to understand and accurate ratings that allow, for the first time, direct comparisons of one wind turbine’s performance against another. The hype and exaggeration of untested, “innovative” designs have harmed the distributed wind business. Too many consumers have been disappointed. Certification will go a long ways towards fixing that,” said Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of the Distributed Wind Energy Association (, the national trade association for small wind.
Certification of the Excel 10 turbine was granted by the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC –, an independent organization funded by several states and the U.S. Department of Energy. “SWCC was set up to ensure that the reviews and the granting of small wind turbine certifications were held to the highest standards, so that consumers could be confident in the results,” said Larry Sherwood, executive director of the SWCC. “It’s a big burden for manufacturers, but it’s something the states with rebate programs have wanted for years – a way to ensure that the public’s money goes towards effective equipment. We have 27 turbine models from 24 manufacturers in line for certification, so I think manufacturers recognize the value of certification.” California, New York, Oregon and Wisconsin, which provide substantial rebates for small wind turbines, now require partial or full certification to the AWEA standard and a number of other states plan to do the same.
“I think SWCC has done a great job with the labeling. All of the complexities of testing, performance prediction, and noise production have been boiled down to an easy to understand set of ratings. It’s like the EPA Estimated Gas Mileage for wind turbines,” noted Mr. Bergey. “How much power? How much energy? How much noise? These are the questions consumers have, but haven’t always gotten straight answers for until now.” The AWEA standard sets the rated wind speed for turbines so that they can be accurately compared and it establishes a more revealing and valuable performance rating, the AWEA Rated Annual Energy (RAE). “Our Excel 10 carries an AWEA RAE of 13,800 kWh. A potential customer can now compare that with a competing certified turbine’s RAE and know that it will produce a certain percentage more or less energy at their site. They could never do that confidently before.” Details of the Bergey Excel 10 certification and ratings are available at

Friday, November 25, 2011

New ships for Arctic Oil Boom

New ships for Arctic Oil Boom

Arctic exploration will get a considerable boost with 20 million euro investment coming from the Russian state owned Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) and Finnish engine maker Wartsila.

The companies have agreed to establish a joint venture for construction of new vessels for Arctic exploration.

OSK President Roman Trotsenko, says the establishment of joint venture with one of the industry leaders “will be concentrated on production of diesel engines for icebreakers” which according to Trotsenko is a very complex process involving assembly of gear units for ships, steering columns, and axles.

Trotsenko adds that Russia should obtain good equipment to finalize its core projects in Arctic
“Without these ships all plans for Arctic development would remain on paper. Russia should learn how to make this,”Trotsenko said.

The investment will be divided according to the partners share in the JV where OSK gets 51% and Warsila’s 49%, however Trotsenko noted that they may need more “I think that we will start from 20 million euro in joint investment. If more is needed we will move further,” Trotsenko said.

The site for the JV is now being selected said Trotsenko noting that two production facilities have been chosen for specific assembly process
“We see foundry capacity at the Baltic Plant and assembly capacity at the Proletarsky Plant. The steer-columns will probably be assembled in Arkhangelsk while gear-cutting equipment will be manufactured in St. Petersburg,” he said

Wartsila has considerable experience of building seagoing vessels for Russia. Two nuclear icebreakers for the USSR, the Taimyr and Vaigach, were built at the company's yard in Helsinki. These ships are still part of Russia's nuclear fleet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

COUNTDOWN TO DEADLINE - December 1st for a Northwest Passage 2012

Here is what we have been up to for some time... preparing GREY GOOSE for an extended voyage...

Online painting pictures:

Now we are ready for a long ride... be it North or South ?

December 1st is the deadline to let us know if you would like to join us for a share-a-ride Northwest Passage 2012 Expedition. If there is a good crew we will plan to go North - departure in May 2012. If there is not enough interest to go North we will plan to go South early winter 2012 through the Panama Canal to our home port in Astoria Oregon.

Either way - if you have interest in cruising - consider joining us aboard the MV GREY GOOSE.

Doug & Michelle
Voyage website:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Prosecutors Seek to Revoke BP's Alaska Probation

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to revoke BP's probation from a 2007 conviction for negligent discharge of oil, saying the company is a recidivist offender of environmental laws on Alaska's North Slope.

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. failed to heed a court's admonishment to "give high priority to maintenance and maybe a little less priority on profits," prosecutors said in a legal brief. They will make their case at hearing set to begin Nov. 29 in Anchorage.

The company followed a 200,000-gallon North Slope oil spill in 2006 — the largest ever in Alaska's oil patch — with a 13,500-gallon spill three years later.

"The cause of the 2009 oil spill was completely predictable and absolutely preventable," prosecutors said in the court filing. "BP simply failed to take adequate precautions and implement proper safeguards."

BP attorneys strongly contest the government's version of events. They will instead seek to have the company's probation ended.

BP Exploration devoted extensive resources to improving its oil line system after 2006, the company said in its brief for the hearing. The company was not negligent and no oil from the 2009 spill reached "United States waters," a standard for a violation of the Clean Water Act, the company said.

The hearing was first reported by the Anchorage Daily News. It will last at least four days.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward said Wednesday that revocation of BP's probation could mean a lengthier probation or additional penalties for the company.

"The court can reopen sentencing on the original conviction," she said.

Prosecutors said in their brief that BP's history of environmental crimes in Alaska began in February 2001 when it pleaded guilty to releasing hazardous materials at its Endicott facility on the North Slope. The company was fined $500,000, placed on probation for five years and ordered to create a nationwide environmental management program, prosecutors said.

The March 2006 spill of 200,000 gallons of crude was caused by corrosion, and BP's leak detection system failed to notice it, prosecutors said.

The company's guilty plea to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act in 2007 resulted in three years of probation, a $12 million fine, and restitution and community service payments totaling $8 million to the state of Alaska and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, BP attorneys said.

Prosecutors contend BP violated the conditions of its probation by allowing the 2009 spill from an 18-inch pipe moving oil, water and gas from drill pads to BP's Lisburne Processing Center. That spill, prosecutors said, leaked 13,500 gallons of oil onto tundra and wetlands.

"This rupture was the result of a predictable and preventable freezing of produced water within the pipeline that caused the pipe to over-pressurize and burst," prosecutors said.

It was eerily similar to the 2006 spill, prosecutors alleged, because BP ignored alarms that warned of the pipe's eventual rupture and leak. The 2009 spill also followed a similar pipe freezing and rupture in 2001, they said, and BP failed to put in place preventative measures that their own experts recommended.

Prosecutors said the spill site directly abuts Prudhoe Bay and the damaged wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. They also contend the spill criminally violated state pollution laws because of BP negligence.

Attorneys for BP said the company devoted extensive resources to improving its oil line system after 2006.

"This included enhancements to BPXA's pipeline integrity management systems and over half a billion dollars of investments upgrading and replacing pipelines and the installation of a new leak detection system," BP attorneys said.

The company and did not ignore alarms, attorneys said, but instead faced an unprecedented event.

The rupture occurred in a line that was looped with another, larger line. Flow had ceased in the smaller line and the stoppage was not quickly detected because all production from each drill pad was reaching the processing center through the other line, BP attorneys said.

As winter set in and water and oil in the line expanded, gas trapped in the line was put under increased pressure. One acceptable response, attorneys said, was to simply let a frozen line thaw when winter ended. Operators were assessing what to do when the line ruptured.

"Contrary to the government's claims, the conditions that led to this spill had never previously been encountered on the North Slope," BP attorneys said.

The company was not negligent in operating and maintaining lines and certainly not criminally negligent, attorneys said.

BP attorneys also dispute that oil spilled into "U.S. waters" despite the wetlands' half-mile proximity to the bay of the Beaufort Sea. An elevated gravel road acted as a dike to spilled oil, they said. The discharge in cold temperatures was in the form of slushy oil and the semi-solids were deposited into a static dome under the pipe that was cleaned up, they said.

The spills in Alaska were dwarfed by the spill of more than 200 million gallons that followed the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig over a BP PLC well in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 rig workers. BP PLC has already spent or committed tens of billions of dollars to clean up the oil and compensate victims and faces hundreds of civil lawsuits. Government fines and penalties also could add liability.


Information from: Anchorage Daily News,

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Outside of a select group of sexy technologies, innovation is almost entirely absent

Entrepreneur expert VIVEK WADHWA describes the black holes of invention

Chuck Cook/Associated Press
Workers gather oil from a beach in Grand Isle, La., in 2010. Oil cleanup methods hadn't changed in decades.

When oil was still spewing uncontrollably from the Deepwater Horizon well last summer, philanthropist Wendy Schmidt and the X Prize Foundation issued a $1.4 million challenge calling for better technologies to clean up oil spills. Aside from Ms. Schmidt's concern for the environment, the need for innovation in this arena was dire.

In 1989, teams cleaning up the oil from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska recovered less than 15 percent of the total. Teams cleaning up oil from the Deep Water Horizon spill were not doing much better.

Oil spills are a fact of modern life. A better cleanup technology would seem to be a no-brainer. But the hazardous spill and recovery sector is sluggish, due in large part to government contractors and federal and state agencies unwilling or unable to try new things.

More than 300 teams from across the world submitted proposals for the prize. Last summer, the 10 finalists in the Oil Cleanup X Challenge traveled to Leonardo, N.J., home of the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility. All of the teams brought technology that was more effective, cheaper and easier to use than existing oil spill cleanup systems.

The winner, Elastec/American Marine, utilized a spinning, grooved wheel to pull an astonishing 89.5 percent of spilled oil from the testing ground. The device collected oil at nearly 5,000 gallons per minute, fast enough to make a near-complete recovery of spills a real possibility. Now, thanks to the publicity and the prize, this oil spill innovation will likely be commercialized and deployed.

The winning team's tale and the Oil Cleanup X Challenge underscore how far behind major sectors of the global economy and global infrastructure remain. What's more, many of these forgotten, slow-moving sectors are far more important to the long-term health and well-being of the United States and its citizens. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are nearly 20,000 oil spills, large and small, per year, a number that has grown considerably over the past two decades.

Eliminating these innovation black holes could do more to improve our lives and the economic future of our country than the latest Web-based social-networking applications. These long-standing problems are not sexy. But they exist in critically important sectors of the economy, such as chemical refining and automotive technology. Imagine a cleaner, more efficient alternative to the internal combustion engine.

Unlike battery-powered-car start-ups and solar- and wind-power companies, the internal combustion engine has been almost entirely ignored by venture capitalists. This has remained true even while gas floats above $3 per gallon.

Over the past 50 years, innovation to improve fuel economy has only occurred when the government has called for it. In the same period that solar- and wind-power companies have pulled in billions in venture capital and government loans, automotive transportation start-ups focused on internal combustion engines have received little attention or financing.

This, to me, is a shocking market failure. Both wind and solar technologies require tremendous capital expenditures before they can be brought to the market and scale up to production. In contrast, a radically improved internal combustion engine could be easily produced with existing industrial capabilities and quickly dropped into the global car production cycle.

This technology could also do more to quickly reduce carbon emissions, national oil dependency and general transportation costs than wind or solar.

In health care, a huge source of waste is in unnecessary diagnostic tests. According to Thomson Reuters, unwarranted treatment, such as the overuse of antibiotics and the use of diagnostic lab tests to protect against malpractice exposure, accounts for $250 billion to $325 billion in annual health care spending. One approach would be to reduce the amount of this care, particularly lab tests. Another might be to radically reduce the cost of the tests.

That's what a group at Harvard University, headed by professor George Whitesides, has done in making accurate diagnostic tests on patterned paper that cost pennies per pop. This is thousands of times cheaper than existing test matrices. What's more, these paper-based tests can easily be administered in the field by lay people with no medical training.

Why aren't we seeing more of this type of disruptive innovation? Bridges and highways are crumbling. Where are the start-ups that could help build bridges or bring to market cheaper, more durable road materials?

The general message is clear. Outside of computers, software and a select group of sexy technologies, innovation is almost entirely absent. In many of these sectors, huge leaps of innovation aren't that hard to achieve.

Witness the impressive output of Elastec/American Marine, which took less than six months to build a technology six times more efficient and far cheaper to operate than existing technologies. All it took was the impetus of a competition, a relatively modest prize and the prospect of a springboard to put their innovation into the global marketplace. Considering the cost-benefit ratio, it's amazing we don't have thousands and thousands of innovation prizes addressing areas of stagnancy throughout our infrastructure, contests that would unleash the intellectual power and drive of entrepreneurs.

There is low-hanging fruit to be harvested in many areas that could make the United States a better place and up our economic competitiveness. Let's stop focusing on the shiny objects and look at the boring nooks and crannies for a better roadmap to a better country and a better world.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Washington Post columnist, is director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University.

Read more:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Alaskan now living in Norway sees differences in how resources managed to public's benefit

By Anna Barnwell

As an Alaskan living in Norway, it is easy for me to see the similarities between my two homes. Most obvious are geographical similarities.

Alaska and Norway are at the same latitude so climate is largely the same. The topography is also similar: mountainous regions in the interior, fjord-rich coastline, tundra landscapes to the north and rich natural resources.

As we Alaskans know, there is little that can compare to the wild character of our state. Norway is certainly not as wild, in many respects. For example, an Alaskan eating Norwegian salmon will taste the suspect signs of farmed salmon, in stark contrast to our delicious wild fish.

Like in Alaska, however, exploitation of natural resources has long been the basis for Norway's economic growth. Today, Norway is one of the richest countries in the world. Even since 2008, Norway has been one of the only countries that has a debt surplus and has managed the financial crisis relatively well. This is in large part due to Norway's oil industry, perhaps one of the most important similarities between Alaska and Norway.

How this resource has been managed in Norway, however, is quite different — both from Alaska and the rest of the world. One determining characteristic of Norway's petrol saga has been the involvement of the government. Shortly after finding oil in 1972 Norway created Statoil, a state owned company that currently manages about 80 percent of the Norwegian oil fields. Statoil today is a partially private company, reflective of Norway's combination of state services and presence in the free market. Norway's ownership in Statoil means that the government manages the profits, in addition to other perks like access to information, technology and decision making.

Norway is one of the only countries to have emerged from a history with petroleum unscathed by the so-called "oil curse" seen in many countries with significant oil resources. This is largely because of government institutions in place that helped regulate how the profits of such a rare and highly valuable resource like oil are shared.

Another common problem is "Dutch disease," which Norway solved via the Government Pension Fund, established in 1990. The fund consists of oil revenues, taxes (Norway taxes oil companies at about 78 percent — Statoil included), sales revenues, dividends and licensing fees. It is kind of like the Permanent Fund Dividend, only worth somewhere around $525 billion. So what does the country do with the money? Much of it is invested globally and the fund is known for having extremely high standards for sustainable and ethical companies. Is the money used domestically? It was politically determined that the fund be saved for future generations. Because of this, only 4 percent of the fund is allotted to the national budget and therefore enables a higher quality of welfare state services.

The welfare state is the biggest difference between living in Norway and Alaska. While the salmon is not as good, the services available at a low cost make up for the farmed taste of pinkish salmon.

To clarify, the petroleum fund alone does not account for all costs incurred by the government to provide free school and university system, health care, infrastructure, child care, shorter work weeks, plentiful sick leave, vacation days, and maternity/paternity compensations (to name a few). These services exist because of political decisions having been made by people and politicians that honor egalitarian principles.

How these political decisions work out in the day-in-day out is in more ways than one. (For example, gender equality where Norway ranks as one of the highest in the world.) It is confidence in the economy, even in times of global financial crisis. It is knowing that there is a netting below you, so that if you fall you won't hit the ground.

This is not solely provided through management of Norway's natural resources, but is assisted by excellent foresight of the oil industry. I recognize that at this point many of Norway's policy decisions are not possible in Alaska. However, there are important lessons we can learn from Norway for future Alaska ventures. Perhaps the most important is to recognize that the owner of the resource is the one that holds the power in the bargaining relationship between state and corporation. It is up to the government to come up with the game rules of how the resource is exploited so that it maximizes the benefit for the citizens of the country (and/or state). This doesn't necessarily mean a state-owned company, but may include higher taxation of corporations leading to an eventual higher share of benefits for all citizens. When this is done successfully, the country can prosper.

Today, debate surrounding Norway's petroleum industry is often regarding matters of environmental responsibility. To what extent is Norway responsible for the emissions of the fossil fuel it exports, in addition to those at home? While Statoil is praised for its Corporate Social Responsibility domestically, their involvement in the tar sands of Canada raises eyebrows.

In addition, an increasingly wealthy population has an ever-increasing carbon footprint. How can Norway reconcile its climate change agenda goals with continuing petroleum production? These questions are sensitive here, as they are in Alaska. Again, we end up on the same page. Ironically, for two of the most naturally unique and environmentally valuable places on the planet, Alaska and Norway are stuck in the push-and-pull of exploitation versus environmental considerations.

Anna Barnwell was born and raised in Anchorage. She graduated from Service High School, and while a student there studied in Roros, Norway, as an exchange student under the AFS program. After graduating from Colby College, Waterville, Maine, she returned to Norway to study globalization, politics and culture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, graduating with a master's degree in political science. She now lives in Gratangen, Norway, with her fiancé, øistein Stokke Berget, where she teaches English.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Yacht BERSERK tragedy ends in fine for skipper

Jarle Andhøy has accepted the NOK 25.000 fine.

Jarle Andhøy, expedition leader and skipper on the Berserk, has been fined $ 4.500. He accepted the fine ”solely for the sake of the relatives” and because he doesn't want more "noise" around the incident, he told media.

The Berserk sailed in to the Ross Sea and landed near the Scott base in February. Andhøy and a fellow expedition member drove towards the South Pole on ATVs, while the three remaining crew waited in the area for their return.

A violent hurricane in the ice-infested waters ended the expedition, and the Berserk was reported missing. A big search and rescue operation only found an empty life raft. Norwegians Robert Skaane and Tom Gisle Bellika, and South African Leonard J. Banks were lost.

The Ross Sea is an exposed stretch of water where storms and hurricanes are common, and sailing yachts rarely venture. Berserk was in the area late in the season. In a previous interview with ExplorersWeb Jarle said the crew was experienced and he was in contact with them daily when skiing on the ice. The last sms from them read, "All good. Boat shipshape and we are now leaving Horseshoe Bay... contact us when you can."

In August Andhøy asked relatives of Skaane, Belika and Banks for permission to do a TV documentary about the expedition and disaster. Two of the mothers turned the request down because they “didn’t want their sons deaths to be entertainment” and they “didn’t want anyone to make money on the tragedy”.

Friday Troms police fined Andhøy NOK 25 000 for not reporting to the Norwegian Polar Institute before the expedition, failing to prepare a preliminary environmental impact assessment, and for lacking adequate SAR insurance.

During the investigation Andhøy denied to be questioned by the police and has accepted the fine.

"I think it's very good to get this matter out of the world. I have accepted the fine to spare the relatives of the accident," he told Dagbladet.

A high profile sailor in Norway, Jarle Andhøy has appeared on several TV shows and made headlines in the news before. In a bear-whisperer incident Jarle was fined for disturbing Polar Bears on Svalbard. A trip through the Northwest Passage was cut short when Canadian authorities cuffed and put Andhøy on a plane back to Norway for suspected smuggling of a crew member who had been deported on charges of being member of the Hells Angels.

BERSERK tragedy - and and BERSERK website:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Explorers Invite Public to Join Historic Ocean Expedition Online

Explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic in 1985, is partnering with scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and other institutions to webcast a live scientific expedition to the eastern Mediterranean Nov. 10-18. People around the world will be able to view live video feeds and submit questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the scientists use remotely operated vehicles to map the seafloor, study underwater volcanoes, investigate unusual life forms, explore shipwrecks and more.

E/V Nautilus in Western Mediterranean Sea, 2011

Jamie Austin, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin'sInstitute for Geophysics, will serve as co-chief scientist of the expedition aboard the ship E/V Nautilus. Austin was co-chief scientist during a 2010 Nautilus voyage that discovered dense populations of deep-water coral, crabs, shrimp and fish off the coast of Israel. The upcoming expedition will further explore the region, which some Israelis are now lobbying to have designated a unique deep-water marine sanctuary.

Ballard, president of the Institute for Exploration at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, started Nautilus Live to get middle and high school students excited about science and ocean exploration by showing them real scientists and educators doing real work at sea. To achieve that, he enlists secondary school teachers to come aboard and work alongside scientists, remotely interacting with students and online visitors around the world.

Randy Laurence, an earth science teacher at C.C. Winn High School in Eagle Pass, Texas, sailed for 10 days in October aboard the Nautilus. He said the "telepresence" aspect of the trip — the immediate global connection via audio, video and text — had a powerful effect on his students back home. Exxon Mobil Corp. provided funding to cover his expenses for the trip.

"Seeing a person they know on the website doing science multiplied their interest by a factor of 10," he said. "I had students in one class that I thought would never be interested whatsoever who were emailing me every day. They were thinking, ‘Wow, if my teacher can do that, maybe I can too.’"

Visitors can log in to the expedition, the final leg in a series of webcast voyages to the Mediterranean, at the Nautilus Live website.

For more information, contact: Marc Airhart, Geology Foundation, Jackson School of Geosciences, 512 471 2241.