Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why Arctic Ocean oil drilling is a risky choice

It's not a question of ‘if' a major spill will occur in the Arctic, but ‘when and where', says conservation biologist and oil industry expert Rick Steiner

As we enter the end of the age of oil, it is clear that most of the world's easily accessible oil has already been produced. Oil companies are now moving offshore into the last hydrocarbon frontiers - deepwater and the Arctic Ocean.

The dangers of deepwater drilling came into sharp focus in 2010 with the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, where 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over a 3-month period. Another high-risk environment is the Arctic Ocean, which geologists suggest may be the last significant oil and gas frontier left. As decisions are made on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean, we need to understand and acknowledge the risks.

First, even if nothing goes wrong, there would be unavoidable impacts from each phase of oil development in the Arctic Ocean - seismic exploration, exploratory drilling, production platforms, pipelines, offshore and onshore terminals, and tankers.

Offshore oil development will include airplanes, helicopters, support ships, drill ships, platforms, artificial islands, icebreakers, waste streams from ships and rigs, lights and noise, extensive coastal infrastructure construction (ports, roads, causeways, staging areas), subsea pipelines, geotechnical coring, and noise from underwater seismic surveys. These industrial activities will add significant disturbance in an Arctic ecosystems already suffering terribly from warming.

The acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from offshore oil development is of particular concern, as underwater noise can affect communication, migration, feeding, mating, and other important functions in whales, seals, and walrus. As well, noise can affect bird and fish migration, feeding and reproduction, and can displace populations from essential habitat areas. Some of these impacts can be reduced or mitigated with lease stipulations, but most cannot.

And of course, beyond these unavoidable operational impacts, there is the very real risk of a large oil spill from exploration drilling, production, pipelines, terminals, and tankers. While government and industry ritually understate the risk of oil spills and overstate their preparedness, for high-risk environments such as the Arctic Ocean, we should assume that a large marine oil spill will occur.

In fact, for development off Alaska's Arctic coast, U.S. government authorities project the risk of a major spill at about 30 - 50 per cent, and that a worst-case blowout could release some 1.3 million barrels (58 million gallons) of oil.

So if drilling proceeds in the Arctic Ocean, then everything possible to reduce risk should be required. The risk reduction standard for the Arctic should go well beyond industry's preferred standard of ‘As Low As Reasonably Practicable' (ALARP), to ‘As Low As Possible' (ALAP), regardless of cost.

This highest safety standard would include best available and safest technology for all components of an offshore drilling program - blowout preventers with redundant shear rams, well design and integrity verification, proven seabed well capping equipment, independent well control experts on rigs, rigorous cementing and pressure testing procedures, dual well control barriers, immediate relief well capability on stand-by, state-of-the-art seabed pipeline design and monitoring, tanker traffic monitoring, strict seasonal drilling windows allowing sufficient time for response to late-season spills, robust spill response plans, rigorous government permitting and inspection, and Citizens Advisory Councils to provide effective citizen oversight. As well, financial liability for offshore oil spills in the Arctic should be unlimited, thereby motivating companies to incorporate the highest safety standards possible.

Not "if" but "when" a spill will occur

But regardless how safe we make offshore drilling in the Arctic, there will still be a significant risk of a major oil spill, and policy makers and industry need to be honest about this. People will make mistakes, and equipment will fail. It's not a question of ‘if' a major spill will occur, but ‘when and where.'

A major spill will travel with currents, in and under sea ice during ice season, and it would be virtually impossible to contain or recover. Even with robust oil spill response capability, in most scenarios far less than 10 per cent will be recovered, and a major spill could easily become a transnational event.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BRITAIN WAKE UP - Your National Treasures are Your Men & Women - Respect Their Service

Heroes: Yesterday the 11 servicemen, pictured, came together to lead fresh calls for the Ministry of Defence to honour their exploits with a campaign medal
Heroes: Yesterday the 11 servicemen, pictured, came together to lead fresh calls for the Ministry of Defence to honour their exploits with a campaign medal

These 11 heroes were among more than 66,000 British sailors and merchant seamen who braved sub-zero temperatures to keep supply lines to Russia open during the Second World War.

Proudly wearing their Royal Navy uniforms pinned with gleaming medals, they are part of a dwindling band of Second World War brothers.

The political sensitivities of the Cold War have been blamed for Britain’s failure to honour the heroes in the aftermath of the war.

In opposition the Conservatives promised to introduce an Arctic Medal if they took office, but David Cameron appears to have reneged on the pledge.

He ordered an 18-month MoD-led review, and last month infuriated the old sailors by ordering another independent probe.

Yesterday Tory MP Caroline Dinenage said: ‘The Arctic campaign remains the only major maritime campaign of the Second World War without a specific medal.

‘These heroic men have waited almost 70 years for recognition from the country they served so courageously. Now is not the time for delay or protocol, but for action.’

In all, there are only 200 remaining survivors of Britain’s Arctic convoy, which Winston Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’.

Icy: Members of the Arctic convoy endured freezing conditions during what Winston Churchill called 'the worst journey in the world'

Those on the convoy endured fearful conditions carrying vital munitions and supplies to embattled Russia so that the Red Army could continue the fight against Nazi Germany.

The perilous 1,600-mile trip from Scotland and Iceland, past the enemy-held shores of Norway to the frozen wastes of Murmansk and Archangel, was fraught with terrible danger.

Intense cold, 40ft waves and freezing seas were matched by the constant fear of torpedo attack from enemy submarines or bombing raids by warplanes.

More than 3,000 British sailors were killed on the convoys and 87 merchant ships and 18 Royal Navy warships perished.

These 11 men who met in London’s Victory Services Club, a place steeped in military history, rightly feel proud of their endeavours. They also feel anger and betrayal over being denied a medal.

Intense cold, 40ft waves and freezing seas were matched by the constant fear of torpedo attack from enemy submarines or bombing raids by warplanes

Seamen wrapped up in specially designed Arctic outfits man the searchlight

A seaman makes attempts to free chains, wires and bollards from ice onboard ship during the Arctic convoy

Read more:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scientists Say We Should Search Moon for Alien Traces

Scientists Say We Should Search Moon for Alien Traces

Arizona State University's professor Paul Davies—a theoretical physicist and cosmologist now working on astrobiology—and Robert Wagner—Research Technician at the School of Earth & Space Exploration—have published a scientific paper calling for the search of alien artifacts on the Moon..

I know. I find this insanely awesome too. And it actually makes some sense.
They argue that, while the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence "has a low probability of success", the potential impact of finding proof requires to "widen the current search" as much as possible. Instead of just looking for radio messages, we should search for traces of alien explorers in the celestial bodies of our solar system. These are the highlights of their research paper:
• Alien civilizations may have sent probes to our region of the galaxy.
• Any mission to the solar system would probably have occurred a very long time ago. The lunar environment could preserve artifacts for millions of years.
• Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter provides a photographic database to search for artifacts.
• Searching the LRO database would make an excellent educational project.
Their first idea is to use photographs from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter—340,000 images now, one million in the future—for computer-based and crowd-sourced analysis that may identify potential alien structures, from machinery to debris. The cost is very low, they say, and there will be gains no matter what: either we find signs of aliens or people learn a lot about the Moon in the process. It's a win-win proposition.
Davies and Wagner believe that, if there's something, it will be perfectly preserved because there's very little activity on the lunar surface. They think that, if aliens actually were there, they may have left a "We were here" capsule on a place like the Tycho crater or perhaps in one of themany lava caves that populate our silver satellite. Just like space exploration experts believe humans should use these caves to set up outposts, Davies and Wagner believe that there's where the alien explorers may have installed their bases millions or thousands of years ago.

Will 2012 top 2011 for record weather disasters?

From floods that crippled countries, to mega cyclones, huge blizzards, killer tornadoes to famine-inducing droughts, 2011 has been another record-breaker for bad weather.

While it is too early to predict what 2012 will be like, insurers and weather prediction agencies point to a clear trend: the world's weather is becoming more extreme and more costly.

Following are details of major weather disasters for 2011 and some early forecasts for 2012.


Global reinsurer Munich Re says natural catastrophe losses for the first nine months of 2011 totalled $310 billion, a record, with 80 percent of all economic losses occurring in the Asia-Pacific region. Since 1980, weather-related disasters globally have more than tripled.

The United States set a record with 12 separate billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011, with an aggregate damage total of approximately $52 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this month.

The U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures in 2011 are currently the 10th highest on record, higher than any previous year with a La Nina event, which has a relative cooling influence.

The 13 warmest years have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997. The extent of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the second lowest on record, and its volume was the lowest.

Scientists say a warming atmosphere and more moisture in the air are providing fuel for weather systems, leading to more extremes. Rising levels of greenhouse gases from industry, transport and deforestation are providing that extra heat.


January -- Record floods swamp Australia's east coast, killing 35 people, shutting coal mines, wiping out roads, rail lines and thousands of homes and costing more than $2 billion in insured losses.

-- "Snowmageddon": Heavy snows blanket large parts of the United States including record falls in New York.

February -- Cyclone Yasi, one of the largest and most powerful storms ever to hit Australia, strikes northern Queensland state, devastating sugar and banana crops.

-- Massive winter storm hits U.S. Midwest and Northeast, causing travel chaos and power outages.

April - Series of tornadoes batter U.S. Southeast, killing an estimated 364 people.

May - Tornado hits U.S. town of Joplin, killing about 160 people, the single deadliest U.S. twister since 1947.

-- Floods in U.S. Midwest and Mississippi River Valley inundate millions of acres, trimming corn and soy plantings.

June - Floods in China's central and southern provinces kill more than 100 people. More than half a million are evacuated.

July - Worst drought in decades in the Horn of Africa triggers famine in Somalia and leaves 13 million people at risk starvation in a crisis expected to last well into 2012.

-- Flooding between July and late November in Thailand kills more than 600, affects a third of the country, causes damage of at least $42 billion and inundates nearly 1,000 factories near Bangkok, disrupting auto and electronics global supply chains.

August - Hurricane Irene kills at least 40 people in the eastern United States and triggers the worst flooding in decades in some states. Economic losses estimated to top $10 billion.

September - Scores die in worst flooding along the Mekong river since 2000.

October - Rare October snowstorm kills 13 in U.S. northeast and leaves 1.6 million without power.

December - Tropical storm Washi hits the Philippine island of Mindanao, triggering flash floods and mudslides and killing more than 1,200 people.

-- Year-long drought in U.S. state of Texas causes more than $5 billion in agricultural losses and triggers wildfires that burn 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares). Summer temperatures in Texas break U.S. records.


A La Nina event in the Pacific Ocean is expected to last well into 2012. The phenomenon is a cooling of waters in the central Pacific and has a global impact on weather.

Forecasters expect it to bring above-average rains to northern and eastern Australia and more cyclones than normal during the Australian November-April storm season. La Nina events also tend to strengthen the Atlantic hurricane season.

Colorado State University researchers expect an above-average hurricane season if conditions that bring warmer than usual tropical water temperatures in the Atlantic continue and there no major El Nino event.

El Nino is a warming of surface waters in the eastern and central Pacific, affecting wind patterns that can trigger droughts in Australia and suppress Atlantic hurricanes.

Winter across Europe and the United States is also expected to be milder, forecasters say.

"The common thread this winter compared to last is the presence of La Nina," said Chris Vaccaro, public affairs director, at the National Weather Service in Washington. "But the La Nina we have now and through the winter is not anticipated to be as strong as last year."

In addition, the Arctic Oscillation, which was negative last year and sent frigid air southward leading to huge snowstorms, has largely been positive this year. The oscillation is a shift in atmospheric pressure cells that changes wind patterns.

A negative phase triggers high pressure over the Arctic and low pressure at mid-latitudes, which makes the Arctic zone relatively warm, but spills cold Arctic air southward to places like the U.S. Midwest and Northeast.

Most of continental Europe, the Nordic region and Britain will see warmer-than-normal weather between January and March, Weather Services International (WSI.L) said last week. (Sources: Reuters, NOAA, WMO, Colorado State University) (Additional reporting by Nina Chestney in London and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Writing by David Fogarty; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The colder war: U.S., Russia and others are vying for control of Santa’s back yard

The USS New Hampshire conducting exercises in the Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. Although the United States has a clearly stated Arctic strategy, the country has limited capabilities to defend and explore the region.

Santa Claus may see you when you’re sleeping, but NORAD makes sure it sees Santa pretty much round-the-clock. The North American Aerospace Defense Command not only follows Saint Nick’s sleigh ride with its famous NORAD Tracks Santa site, but it is also involved in a struggle over resources, border control and broader military presence right in Santa’s vast and magnificent home: the Arctic.

In April, President Obama signed a new command plan that gives NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command greater responsibility in protecting the North Pole and U.S. Arctic territory.

The Arctic region — covering more than 30 million square kilometers and stretching around the territorial borders of Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, Russia and the United States by way of the Alaskan coastline — is transforming before our eyes. And not just because the ice is melting. It’s increasingly the site of military posturing, and the United States isn’t keeping up with the rest of the world.

In 2009, Norway moved its operational command to its northern territories above the Arctic Circle. Russia has plans to establish a brigade that is specially equipped and prepared for military warfare in Arctic conditions. Denmark has made it a strategic priority to form an Arctic Command. Canada is set to revitalize its Arctic fleet, including spending $33 billion to build 28 vessels over the next 30 years. Even China has entered the Arctic race; it constructed the world’s largest non-nuclear icebreaker to conduct scientific research in the Arctic.

September marked the lowest recorded levels of sea ice in the Northern Polar Region. The polar ice cap today is 40 percent smaller than it was in 1979, and in the summer of 2007 alone, 1 million more square miles of ice beyond the average melted, uncovering an area of open water six times the size of California. As quickly as the polar ice cap recedes, commercial opportunities in the resource-rich Arctic advance. The Arctic is governed by the U.N. convention on the Law of the Sea. That framework allows a coastal state to have exclusive economic control 200 miles off its coast — and possibly to extend authority 600 miles beyond, depending on certain scientific claims.

In the 21st-century Arctic, large corporations and countries are racing to reach and capture the abundance of offshore oil and gas as well as iron ore, nickel, cooper, palladium and rare-earth minerals. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the Arctic contains 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30 percent of its gas resources. And as the ice melts, cargo transport could increase from the 111,000 tons in 2010 to more than 1 million tons in 2012, according to some Russian estimates.

It’s not just a natural-resources race. Cruise ships take eco-tourists to see the North Pole, stunning Arctic coastline vistas and endangered species such as beluga whales and polar bears — for $24,000 to $35,000 a head. In addition, international scientists search for climate-change clues in Arctic permafrost conditions, ice dynamics and glaciers. Fishing trawlers hunt for lucrative fish stocks.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What We Didn’t Know Then about the RENA Disaster that We Know Now - OMG!

We know the Rena grounded off the coast of Tauranga in October. We know the cargo ship grounding spilled 400 tons of oil into an environmentally pristine ecosystem. We know the incident on the Astrolabe Reef is New Zealand’s worst ever maritime environmental disaster. What we didn’t know until almost 3 months later…that the ship had previous safety issues, 17 safety violations, to be exact, just 10 weeks prior to the mega oil spill.

This week, Australian inspection records brought to light from the Associated Press (obtained under the Aussie law of freedom of information) showed that Rena had 17 violations while docked at the country, including faulty cargo-securing pins, and hatch-securing cleats. The vessel also was found with out-of-date navigation manuals, an un-used data recorder, and a tampered alarm. The violations described in the records tell a bleak background on the ship’s unknown story prior to its grounding and subsequent spill.

Apparently, after the discoveries from Australian inspectors, the Greek-owned, Liberian-registered Rena was impounded. Following the impound, Liberian maritime authorities intervened in the situation and told Australia that the ship was safe to sail and that all the described violations could be fixed at a later date. Rena was released from Australia the next day.

Ten weeks following the short-lived impounding, the cargo ship steamed onto the well-charted Astrolabe reef off of New Zealand’s coast, spilling its massive volume of oil, killing 2,000 sea birds, and soiling the untouched beaches nearby. Rena’s damage didn’t even stop there. Containers that fell off the ship are still washing up on remote beaches 100 miles from the site in which she sits today, posing a threat of a break up, months later.

Although the violations and Rena’s grounding can’t be conclusively linked, the records portray a hopeless image of an ailing ship amid a dangerous culture of cost-cutting under what Nick Perry of Associate Press calls a flag-of-convenience system.

So, who is to blame?

Is it the flag country for pressuring authorities for the Rena to be released? The Australian maritime authorities who let the ship go under violations? The captain and officer currently facing criminal charges in NZ for operating a ship in a “risky and dangerous” manner? Or is it the maritime industry, as a whole, seeking to cut costs at other expenses?

Let’s hope Maritime New Zealand can uncover the answer to this question as they conduct their own investigation into the incident which is now as unpredictable as ever. --MarEx Staff

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Putting Pen to Paper in Opposition of the Pebble Mine

By Laura Linn Meadows

These days, taking action on an environmental issue requires little more than a click or two of the mouse button. It’s an effective way to tell your elected officials how you feel without sacrificing time from your busy life. There are some issues, however, that strike so deeply we are compelled to do more. The proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, is one such issue for Wyoming native, Laura Linn Meadows, so she took the time to write this touching letter to her congresswoman. And in time-honored tradition, she also submitted it her local paper, Jackson Hole News and Guide, to increase exposure and inspire others. At the end of the letter we have an “easy” way for you to take action on this issue.
GVW1[Wyoming's Gros Ventre Wilderness, the author's inspiration for writing the following letter. All photos: Laura Linn Meadows]
Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis
113 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congresswoman Lummis,
I want to share a story with you. I recently returned from a pack trip into the Gros Ventre Range as the cook, a packer, and a guide with my brother, an outfitter. Our parents were waiting at the trailhead with trucks and trailers and transportation back to town for our guests. As I rode in with my packstring and the dudes, my father, who was beaming with pride, met me on the trail. His pride wasn’t because his kids were following in his footsteps for the first time, as Pete and I have taken many other pack trips together. He was proud because, for the first time, we had followed in the footsteps of our great-grandfather and grandfather. We had taken our guests to the Six Lakes, the favorite stomping ground of our predecessors. Pete and I are the 4th generation of Linns to parade our guests past the Cowboy Camp, dropping down to the Gros Ventre River at Upper Falls, past Darwin Peak, down the Jagg Creek Trail to Six Lakes, and over Two Echo Park. That’s 100 years of horseshoe tracks, double diamonds, and bacon fried on a campfire. That’s four generations of eyes peeking through binoculars at elk, moose, sheep, deer, bears, and wolves. Now I’m looking forward to the day when I have kids of my own that can climb into a little saddle on a big horse and weave down the same trails, watch brookies in the clear water of Crystal Creek, and find the big dipper in the night sky as the coals of the campfire putter out.

These are the wild places that make Wyoming special. They have provided our family with lasting memories, a rich and enduring history, and business opportunities that have sustained generations. Over the past 100 years we have shared these mountains with countless guests and friends from all over the world. I want to throw an immense ‘thank you’ to all of the men and women who had the foresight to protect them. The Gros Ventre Wilderness was designated under the Wyoming Wilderness Act of 1984, a relatively recent addition to the notion of landscape preservation. It truly has become a gift for the children and the children’s children thanks to Wyoming greats like Malcom Wallup, Alan Simpson, and Dick Cheney. But this area was not protected just for views that it provides from the top of Black Peak and Sportsman Ridge. The effects of a wilderness designation for the Gros Ventre Range has far reaching effects as it is the headwaters of the Gros Ventre, Hoback, and Green Rivers providing irrigation for Wyoming ranches, recreational opportunities, and habitat for countless fish and wildlife species before contributing to the Snake and Green Rivers.
I wanted to share my story to highlight how today’s decisions will impact future generations.  At present there is a controversy raging on the future of the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. The proposed Pebble Mine will forever change the landscape with the development of roads, communities, open pit mines, dams, and tailing ponds. The impacts to the wildlife and wildness of the land will be substantial. More importantly and with little doubt, contaminants released into the watershed will devastate Bristol Bay, the largest wild salmon fishery in the world. Families that have fished these waters for generations, either commercially or recreationally, may not have the opportunity to pass their traditions on to the next generation. And the ecosystem that has consistently provided salmon for millions of Americans may forever be damaged. As you know, implementation of the Clean Water Act has the power to protect the precious and fragile headwaters of Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine.
There are a countless people just like me who can tell a similar family story by changing the location, the place names, and mode of transportation. I know I have the opportunity to pass my family traditions to my children thanks to protection of Wyoming’s headwaters. Please support the Clean Water Act so the fishermen and women of Bristol Bay can pass their traditions to their children. Someday soon a new generation of fishermen will look back at their legislators in Washington and be able to say, “Thank you for defending our way of life and enjoy your wild salmon.”
Laura Linn Meadows
Laura Linn Meadows is one of the fifth-generation outfitters to hail from Wilson, Wyoming. She has a passion for the wildlife of Wyoming and the wild places they live, as well as the great mountain horses that her family has raised to explore the Tetons. She currently attends Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Corvallis, OR. In the summers she returns home to help her family with their outfitting business. After Laura finishes vet school she plans on floating the teeth of the over 50 head of horses her family has in their outfitting string. That’s about 2,050 teeth.

Ultimate Adventure Bucket List 2012

Twenty of the world's top athletes and explorers share their wildest dream trips—a dazzling list of never attempted feats daunting to even these world-class competitors. For the rest of us, consider their must-do adventures—and start planning. —Kate Siber
  • Dive the Poles
  • Climb Asia Australia
  • Mountain Bike New Zealand
  • Ski South Georgia Island
  • Climb Tallest Himalaya Mountains
  • Kayak Yarlung Tsang Po Tibet
  • Ice Climb Baffin Greenland
  • Cave Dive Surf Florida Bahamas
  • Base Jump Shipton Spire Pakistan
  • Hike Continental Divide Trail
  • Stand Up Paddleboard Peru
  • Snowboard Himalaya
  • Dogsled Arctic Canada
  • Bike Highest Roads Europe
  • Ski Powder Highway Canada
  • Surf Circumnavigation
  • Hike Arctic Yukon Alaska
  • Kite Ski Kamchatka Russia
  • Kayak Circumnavigation South America
  • Ski South Pole Antarctica