Alaska Oil And Gas Association Sues Feds Claiming Polar Bear Protected Habitat Too Large

DAN JOLING  Huffington Post Original article here

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An Alaska petroleum industry trade group has sued the federal government over its designation of 187,157 square miles as polar bear critical habitat, claiming it covers too much territory and could cost tens of millions or more in economic effects.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association sued Tuesday in Anchorage.

“This is an area larger that 48 of the 50 states, exceeding the size of the State of California by nearly 25,000 square miles,” association attorneys said in the lawsuit.

The designation is unprecedented – the largest area set aside in the history of the Endangered Species Act – and was done for an animal that is abundant, with 20,000 to 25,000 animals in 19 subpopulations, according to the group.

AOGA represents 15 companies that account for most oil and gas exploration, production, refining and marketing in Alaska. The group claims there is no evidence of an overall decline in the global polar bear population or its historical range.

That’s disputed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to list bears.

“AOGA’s suit is premised on the fiction that polar bear populations are stable,” said attorney Brendan Cummings in an e-mail.

The two best-studied populations, western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea, are known to be declining, he said. The polar bear specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists eight of the world’s 19 subpopulations of polar bears as “declining,” including both of Alaska’s. Seven other subpopulations are listed as “data deficient” for making the call.

A U.S. Geological Survey model prepared before the listing suggested a better than 50 percent chance that polar bears will be extinct in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas under the minimum sea ice model run by 2030. The USGS later noted its projections of sea ice decline appeared to be underestimated.

BP Hopes For Alaska Arctic Oil Production In Beaufort Sea In 2013

BECKY BOHRER   02/ 1/11 Huffington Post, original article here

JUNEAU, Alaska — BP PLC estimates that it could begin producing oil off Alaska’s coast in 2013, despite the fact that construction of the massive Liberty rig has been suspended indefinitely.

BP said last fall that it was suspending construction of the rig to review its engineering and design plans, and ensure the Liberty project can be done safely.

The unusual project calls for using a manmade gravel island in the Beaufort Sea as a drilling base. A rig would drill horizontally for six to eight miles to tap what BP estimates is a 100-million-barrel reserve of recoverable oil.

BP Alaska spokesman Steve Rinehart says the project review is progressing but he couldn’t say when it would be complete or when construction would resume.

Feeding The Robotic Guardians Of The Arctic Seas

Strategy page January 19, 2011. Original article here

Although the Cold War ended in 1991, the U.S. and Canada still maintain a string of radar stations from Alaska to Greenland. The system, originally called the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line, was built in the 1950s, to detect Russian bombers or reconnaissance aircraft coming in. Right across the Arctic Ocean, and the North Pole from the northern coast of North America, is the north coast of Russia. Right across the pole is the shortest distance (for aircraft or ballistic missiles) from Russia to North America.

After the Cold War ended, Canada took over control of the entire system, which is now managed from an underground facility in Ontario. The U.S. still picks up 60 percent of the cost, and has access to information the radars collect.

Even as the Cold War was ending, the DEW line was already being replaced by a system consisting mostly of unmanned radar stations (which cut operating expenses 50 percent and spared many Canadian and American air force personnel periods of duty on the coast of Arctic Ocean). The new North Warning System (NWS) consists of 15 manned long range radars (11 in Canada), and 39 unmanned radars (36 in Canada). This radar system covers an area 5,000 kilometers long and 300 kilometers deep. The DEW line was much longer (going from the Aleutian Islands to Iceland) and deeper (there were two more radar lines farther south, north of the U.S. border.

The DEW Line and the NWS give no warning of ballistic missile attacks, so a different system, using ground and space based radars, has been developed over the last half century. But you still want to know what aircraft are out there over the cold Arctic seas.

A civilian firm provides most of the logistic and technical services to maintain the radars, their generators and communications equipment of the NWS. This costs about $63 million year. The unmanned radars are marvels of automation, built with many redundant systems, so the radars can remain operational until maintenance crews can be flown in from one of the five support bases. This is particularly difficult during the long, cold and dark Winters.

Alaska whalers will wear white float coats for spring hunt

The Associated Press

STEPHANIE AGUVLUK / The Associated Press Eskimo whalers wear float coats on the Chukchi Sea north of Wainwright. The whale hunters have traditionally worn white as camouflage, forgoing the use of life jackets because they've been unavailable in white. When the whaling season arrives this spring hunters from 11 coastal villages will wear the white float coats.

Published: January 17th, 2011 09:46 PM
Last Modified: January 18th, 2011 02:32 PM

Gordon Brower has been hunting bowhead whales for most of his 47 years, forgoing life jackets because no one made them in white, the only color that would work as camouflage on Alaska’s icy Arctic coast.

Now the whaling captain from the nation’s northernmost town of Barrow and other Eskimo whalers have begun to wear personal flotation devices, custom-made in the white they’ve traditionally used to make them more invisible to their massive prey.

When the subsistence whaling season arrives this spring, more Alaska Native hunters from coastal villages will be outfitted with the white float coats being distributed through a safety program that’s been greatly expanded since its debut last year. A couple dozen whalers also will receive white float pants.

Brower’s crew was among whalers who tried the coats last year. On the first trek out with the new gear, the crew landed a 30-ton bowhead.

“Everything kind of lined up in a straight line and the stars were with us, and we got a whale,” he said, noting the only glitch with the coats is the noise they make in extremely cold weather. “Other than that, I think they work pretty good. We were happy to use them.”

The coats are the result of efforts by the Coast Guard, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Burnaby, British Columbia-based Mustang Survival Corp., which makes flotation and extreme climate protection products. The whalers’ coats have a nylon shell and flotation foam filling, which also offers protection against the frigid conditions faced in the Arctic.


Mike Folkerts, a recreational boating safety specialist with the Coast Guard, was participating in a mission to Barrow in 2009 when he noticed the town’s main grocery and general store had no life jackets for sale. Local whalers told him life jackets were too bright and would scare away the animals. He asked if they would wear the jackets if they were available in white.

The hunters said sure.

Folkerts called a couple companies, including Mustang, that sent prototype samples, which Folkerts showed to the whalers.”They loved them,” he said.

There is no federal or state requirement to wear a life jacket in a recreational boat unless the person is under 13, although life jackets on board are required, he said.

The Coast Guard can’t purchase equipment to give to the public, so Folkerts turned to the tribal health consortium. The organization tapped $12,000 of its own funds and ordered 52 coats from Mustang, distributing them among whalers in Barrow and two other villages.

It was an apt connection.

One of the consortium’s areas of interest is reducing the disproportionate rate of drownings among Alaska Natives.

Between 2000 and 2006, Alaska Natives accounted for 179 drowning deaths in the state, or 45 percent of the 402 such deaths in that period, although they represented less than 18 percent of Alaska’s population at the time, according to Hillary Strayer, the organization’s injury prevention specialist.



Drowning deaths are a rarity among whalers, who are extremely safety conscious, according to Folkerts.

But Brower has seen his share of tipped boats over the years. He points out that his boat is only 24 feet long, while whales can be more than twice as long, averaging a ton per foot.

“Once in a great while, somebody has lost their lives,” he said. “The potential is always there, especially when you are attempting to harvest a whale and the animal is a big animal.”

As far as Strayer is concerned, whalers are role models. She’s hoping they inspire others to start wearing life jackets.

“They are pillars of their community,” she said. “They’re really looked up to.”



For the upcoming spring whaling season that begins in April when bowheads are heading north, the consortium is distributing 96 coats among crews from the remaining villages that are members of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which represents 11 communities.

Four crews, including Brower’s, will get the float pants.

The funds for this year’s effort came from a $15,000 donation from Shell Oil and almost $11,000 from Conoco Phillips, an oil producer on the North Slope, where some of the whaling villages are located. Shell has offshore oil exploration projects in the region.

Representatives of the companies said the donations stemmed from their support of the subsistence lifestyle of Natives in the area and the companies’ devotion to safety.

“If outfitting North Slope whalers with traditional-looking, but effective, float coats saves a life, that’s a behavioral change that we’re proud to be part of,” Shell’s Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said.

Police officers free moose tangled in rope and tree

RESCUE: Landscaping pole extends knife to cut bull loose.

Photos courtesy of SUSIE ARNOLD A bull moose tangled in a line near the Bell's Nursery parking lot on Sunday morning was freed by APD Officer Horace Snyder.

By LISA DEMER, Anchorage Daily News. Published: November 15th, 2010
Original article here

An Anchorage police officer called out Sunday to deal with a big bull moose tethered by a rope to a post freed the ungulate with the use of a makeshift saw.

Susie Arnold spotted the moose when she arrived at Bell’s Nursery on Sunday morning to meet a friend for coffee. The trapped moose was on a bike path beside Bell’s, in South Anchorage on Specking Avenue. And the moose was agitated, she said.

The rope was caught initially on a wooden post. The moose worked it off the post, but became tangled in a nearby spruce tree, said Arnold, who watched the situation unfold more than an hour and a half. At one point, one of the moose’s legs was caught by the rope.

Senior patrol officer Horace Snyder was dispatched to answer the moose call.

“When I got there, it was wrapped up in a spruce tree with the rope kind of tied around its antler,” Snyder said. The moose thrashed around in frustration and fear, he said.

Sgt. Justin Doll, who was off duty, was at Bell’s having coffee and came out to help. The officers found a long green landscaping pole and attached Snyder’s pocketknife to one end with duct tape. Doll pulled his pickup close to give Snyder cover. The moose edged away from the truck, which tightened the rope. “I just reached over with the pole and actually cut the moose free. And it just ran away,” Snyder said.

A crowd of people watched and snapped pictures.

“I was just thrilled that APD took the time to make the bike trail safe for pedestrians and that they took additional time to make sure that the moose was safe. It would have been easy to just shoot him,” Arnold said.

Once the police officer arrived, it took just 10 minutes to figure out how to free the moose, she said.

“I was happy we were able to do that rather than have to put the moose down,” Snyder said. “He wasn’t injured and there wasn’t any reason to kill it.

Shell Presses for Drilling in Arctic

Published: November 5, 2010
New York Times – Original article here

The Nanuq is part of Shell’s Arctic oil spill response fleet, which would be ready 24 hours a day.

HOUSTON — Eager to win approval for its stalled plan to drill for oilin the Alaskan Arctic, Royal Dutch Shell is beginning a public lobbying campaign, including national advertising, on Monday. As part of the effort, the giant oil company is promising to make unprecedented preparations to prevent the kind of disaster that polluted the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

Shell’s plan to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas has been snarled in regulatory delays and lawsuits for four years. The company has already invested $3.5 billion in the projects, and it was close to overcoming the final regulatory hurdles to begin drilling when BP’s Macondo well blew out April 20, killing 11 rig workers and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the gulf.

In response to the gulf accident, the Obama administration suspended most new offshore drilling, including in the environmentally sensitive waters of the Arctic.

But now that the moratorium on gulf drilling has been lifted, Shell is pressing the Interior Department to grant final approval for its Arctic projects by the end of this year so that the company has enough time to move the necessary equipment to drill next summer, when the waters offshore are free of ice.

“Every day we’re delayed, we’re delaying jobs and energy development,” Peter Slaiby, Shell’s vice president for Alaska, said in an interview.

“It’s a crushing irony that the Gulf of Mexico moratorium is lifted and we are not allowed to move forward.”

The gulf disaster raised public and government awareness of the risks of catastrophic spills from offshore wells. The waters off Alaska are considered particularly tricky because of the long periods of daytime darkness, periods of months when ice would block the movement of relief ships and the fragility of ocean habitats for whales, polar bears and other species.

“We are opposed to drilling until we get sufficient science that demonstrates that you can do it truly safely,” said Chuck Clusen, director of the National Parks and Alaska projects at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Shell said its emergency response plan was far more robust than the one BP had in the gulf.

“We’re not a tone-deaf company,” Mr. Slaiby said. “We’ve really got to be compelling in what we are doing.”


Shell is beginning a public lobbying campaign, including national advertising, next week. The company’s plan to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas has been snarled in regulatory delays and lawsuits for four years.

Shell’s new marketing campaign promotes an “unprecedented spill response approach” including a sub-sea containment system, an upgrade of the drilling rig’s blowout preventer and an enhanced response plan that include teams and equipment at the ready 24 hours a day. 

The containment system would include a dome that could be placed over any leak, and a funnel to take any escaping oil to surface ships. A rig would be at the ready to drill a relief well if needed.

“We’ve opted out of the fire department type of approach,” Mr. Slaiby said. “Our assets can be on site and deployed within one hour.”

Shell has also scaled back its initial drilling plans to just one or two wells in the Beaufort Sea. It is postponing drilling in the more remote Chukchi Sea pending separate legal challenges.

The company has the support of Alaska’s state government, which is suing the federal government to overturn the drilling suspension.

Gov. Sean Parnell said the suspension was illegal because the Interior Department did not consult with state officials or consider the local economic consequences.

A federal district court judge in Alaska gave the Interior Department a deadline of Friday to respond to the Alaska suit, with a hearing planned for the end of the month.

The Justice Department responded Friday night with a filing that argued that the state did not have standing to sue in the matter, and that the Interior Department was in the process of considering the application.

“We are taking a cautious approach,” said Kendra Barkoff, an Interior Department spokeswoman.

“Alaska represents unique environmental challenges. We need additional information about spill risks and spill response capabilities.”

Shell’s campaign appears aimed at increasing pressure on the Obama administration to approve the plan. The company is placing ads for the rest of the month in national newspapers, liberal and conservative political magazines and media focused on Congress.

For Shell and others in the oil and gas industry, nothing less than the revival of Alaska’s oil history is at stake.

Alaska is the second-biggest oil-producing state after Texas, but it has suffered a steady production decline since 1988, when output peaked at 2.1 million barrels a day.

With its North Slope fields long past their prime, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to drilling and offshore wells largely untapped, the state today produces about 680,000 barrels a day and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is running at one-third of capacity.

To make matters worse, the United States Geological Survey last month cut previous estimates of oil reserves in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, an area preserved by the federal government in case of national emergency, by about 90 percent, to 896 million barrels, approximately what the country consumes in six weeks.

Industry officials say there are as many as 25 billion barrels of oil reserves in the Alaskan Arctic. At the moment, there has been no offshore drilling in Alaskan federal waters since 2003, although there is some production from older wells.

Companies wanting to drill face heavy drilling costs, local opposition and legal challenges from environmental groups that say a potential blowout could endanger critical feeding and spawning grounds for a variety of Arctic species and warn that rough Arctic seas would complicate any containment and cleanup operations.

Mr. Clusen of the resources council noted that a blowout at Shell’s project would cause a slick on barrier islands that are critical birthing areas for polar bears in the winter.

He urged that Shell be obliged to rewrite its exploration documents to include the new response plans and allow the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to formally review “whether that response is adequate or not.”

Shell hopes that Chukchi Sea leases it acquired for $2.1 billion in 2008 could eventually produce as much as 400,000 barrels of oil a day. The holdings in the Beaufort Sea are probably less bountiful, but could eventually produce as much as 100,000 barrels a day.

Shell executives insist that drilling in Arctic waters is safe. They say they will be drilling in 100 to 150 feet of water in the Beaufort Sea, compared with depths of 5,000 feet and more in the gulf, which means that the equipment will be subject to far less pressure.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 6, 2010, on page B1 of the New York edition.

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center restores pieces of the Alaska Native story

A Haida headdress from British Columbia, which would be worn by a high-ranking man or woman during potlatch and spirit-possession ceremonies. Before a dance, the crown was filled with swan or eagle down, which would drift out during the performance and fall onto the spectators like snow. (Donald E. Hurlbert/National Museum Of Natural History)

A $40 million Alaska Native collection is debuting in Anchorage this month, representing a homecoming for 600 rare objects, most of which have never before been seen in public, much less touched.

Paul Ongtooguk, an Iñupiag from the north of Alaska, said in an interview at the Anchorage Museum that he is looking forward to the “family reunion.”

The new Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum, opening May 22, will display clothing, baskets, masks, weapons, utensils, drums, games and more in a first-of-its kind permanent loan arrangement between the Alaska museum and the Smithsonian. As part of the unusual agreement, some Alaska Native community members such as Ongtooguk, one of the consultants on the project and an assistant professor of education at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, will be allowed to remove the objects, with assistance from curators, for further study and interpretation.

The artifacts come from the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian, where they’ve mostly been in storage. The initial agreement commits them to the Alaska museum for seven years.

In choosing the objects, which represent nine native cultures across the state and date mostly from 1850 to 1900, Smithsonian anthropologists examined about 30,000 items in Washington. The effort was headed by Aron Crowell, director of the Arctic Studies Center, who has represented the Natural History Museum on the project since 1994.

It was a daunting task, Crowell said when I interviewed him in Anchorage. But he and his colleagues had help. Beginning in 2002, 40 native elders, artists and educators, chosen by regional Alaska native organizations, made seven weeklong trips to Washington to go through thousands of items. Hundreds of other Alaska natives also had input into the project.

The participants were videotaped telling stories about the objects and describing the memories they brought back, and these videos are part of the exhibit, which is called “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.” The videos will run continuously on large screens throughout the 10,000-square-foot, second-floor gallery space in the Anchorage Museum’s new wing, part of a $106 million expansion at Alaska’s largest museum.

Crowell enthusiastically showed off the new space on a cold day in February. The delicate shipments had not yet arrived from Washington, but glass cases — specially designed with armlike mounting brackets so that items can be removed and carted to a study area — were in place and had him gleeful. Alaska native artists, elders, historians and others with expert knowledge will have access to the objects by appointment. Webcasting will allow those in remote locations to witness their interpretations of the items.

On a visit to Washington, Iñupiag artist Sylvester Ayek interprets pieces bound for the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. (Smithsonian Institution)

“This is not hands-off, and kept behind glass. It’s a community resource and study collection, and we are thrilled to make use of it in that way,” Crowell said. “That took a lot of negotiation.” Many of the objects are fragile, and some needed repair before they could be exhibited.

Visitors to the gallery will see a short introductory film before viewing the displays, which are arranged geographically from the Tsimshian people in the southeast to the Iñupiag people in the north. Hands-on interactive screens similar to those at the American Indian museum will allow visitors to zoom in on the objects and to get more detailed commentary.

In a far corner, an audio gallery, the Listening Space, will run a cycle of stories told in English and about 20 native languages.

Ongtooguk said that for many of Alaska’s more than 100,000 indigenous residents, the objects in the exhibit are already family.

“We talk about these pieces in our families the same way we talk about relatives,” he said. “These objects our like our great-grandparents that are being brought home again.”

Of particular interest to him is an Iñupiag bola, a throwing weapon made of weights on long strings. He said that an uncle had taught him to use a similar one to hunt ducks. “He thought I should know a traditional way to bring in food,” Ongtooguk said. “You throw with your foot, legs, shoulders and arms and should hear a ‘zoot’ sound when it’s released.”

Crowell said that many of the other pieces also have deep meaning.

A parka made of seal gut, from the Yupik people of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, for instance, evoked from elder Estelle Oozevaseuk a story about the village of Kukulek, lost in an epidemic and famine in 1878-80. A recording of the story in both Yupik and English will play for visitors in the Listening Space.

Rosita Worl, director of the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau and a Tlingit consultant to the center, said that she felt an emotional, even spiritual connection to the objects. “It’s important to our ancestors that they be viewed,” she said. “In drawers, in Washington, no one ever sees them. To see them here is really significant.”

Golden is a Boston-based cruise and travel writer and co-author of “Frommer’s Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call.”
The Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum, 625 C St. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, May 22 to mid-September, closed Mondays other times of the year. $10, $8 seniors, students and military, $7 ages 3 to 1

Original article here