NUUK, Greenland – Here, just south of the Arctic Circle, where the sea ice is vanishing like dew on a July morning, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.
Across the region, a warming Arctic is opening up new competition for resources that until recently were out of reach, protected under a thick layer of ice. As glaciers defrost and ice floes diminish, the North is being viewed as a source of not only great wealth but also conflict, diplomats and policy experts say.
In recent months, oil companies have begun lining up for exploration rights to Baffin Bay, a hydrocarbon-rich region on Greenland’s western coast that until recently was too ice-choked for drilling. U.S. and Canadian diplomats have reopened a spat over navigation rights to a sea route through the Canadian Arctic that could cut shipping time and costs for long-haul tankers.
Even ownership of the North Pole has come into dispute, as Russia and Denmark pursue rival claims to the underlying seabed in hopes of locking up access to everything from fisheries to natural-gas deposits.
The intense rivalry over Arctic development was highlighted in diplomatic cables released recently by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Messages between U.S. diplomats revealed how northern nations, including the United States and Russia, have been maneuvering to ensure access to shipping lanes as well as undersea oil and gas deposits that are estimated to contain up to 25 percent of the world’s untapped reserves.
In the cables, U.S. officials worried that bickering over resources might even lead to an arming of the Arctic.
“While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention,” a 2009 State Department cable quoted a Russian ambassador as saying.
Concern over competition in the Arctic was partly behind an extraordinary diplomatic gathering recently in Greenland’s tiny capital Nuuk. This year’s meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council drew seven foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to attend an Arctic Council session. Accompanying Clinton was a second U.S. Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Clinton and her aides sought to call attention to climate change during the visit, highlighting new studies that show Arctic ice melting far more rapidly than scientists had believed. But Clinton also promoted a message of international cooperation in the Arctic.
“The challenges in the region are not just environmental,” Clinton said in Nuuk following talks with her Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen. “The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.”
Clinton’s presence at the Nuuk meeting was intended to show U.S. support for the Arctic Council as a critical forum for cooperation and to resolve conflicts. With strong backing from the Obama administration, the council approved the first legally binding treaty in its history, a pact that sets the rules for maritime search and rescue in the region. Although modest in scope, the treaty, authored mainly by Russia and the United States, was hailed as a template for future agreements on issues ranging from oil-spill cleanup to territorial disputes.
Significantly, the eight member nations voted to establish a permanent secretariat to the council, to be located in Tronso, Norway. Clinton asserted that the region’s powers must recognize the council as the “preeminent intergovernmental body, where we can solve shared problems and pursue shared opportunities.”
“The opportunities for economic development in the Arctic must be weighed against the need to protect its environment and ecosystems. And governments will not always see eye to eye on how to achieve this balance,” Clinton said. “That’s why this council is so important.”
In the diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, there was no dispute about rapid warming under way. The predominant questions revolved around how the region’s newly accessible resources would be carved up.
An area of 200,000 square metres on the White Sea coast near Kandalaksha is polluted.
The oil spill that happened on May 7 has been traced back to Belomorskaya petrol bulk plant report the regional environmental group Bellona Murmansk. The storage tanks of the plant is located just outside the town of Kandalaksha south on the Kola Peninsula.
The oil spill now presents an immediate threat to the Kandalaksha Bay nature reserve located a kilometre and a half away, according to Bellona Murmansk.
The regional department of Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s Environmental agency has stated investigation into the case and cleanup measures have been deployed.
Images from the coastal area clearly show how the shore is polluted with oil.
MURMANSK – The May 7 oil spill in Kandalaksha Bay of the White Sea in Russia’s far northern Kola Peninsula now presents an immediate threat to a nearby nature reserve. Cleanup measures have been deployed, but the oil slick from a coastal petrol bulk plant is now approaching Kandalaksha National Park, only a kilometre and a half away, which is home to hundreds of protected wild species. Anna Kireeva, 17/05-2011 – Translated by Maria Kaminskaya
State environmental authorities in Russia’s Northwest Federal District say the polluted area totals around 200,000 square metres. An investigation has been started into the accident, the authorities say. Click here for a slide show on the progression of the spill.
The spill has been traced back to Belomorskaya (White Sea) petrol bulk plant, an enterprise based in the town of Kandalaksha, on the shore of the White Sea’s Kandalaksha Bay in Russia’s far northern Murmansk Region.However, Belomorskaya director Sergei Khmelyov says the circumstances at hand do not warrant for calling the incident an oil spill, much less attributing it to his company’s operations.
“Water emulsion with oil products mixed in has leaked out of the ground, from ground waters onto the surface, as a result of a [recent] flood,” Khmelyov told Bellona.Ru in an interview.
Khmelyov blames the culture of utter disregard for ecological safety that was prevalent during the Soviet times for what is now happening in Kandalaksha: Back in the Soviet Union, all oil spills from loading racks used to simply go into the ground and get absorbed by the soil and ground waters. The recent springtime flood has lifted this decades-old emulsion out of the ground with flood waters, according to Khmelyov.
“Since 1995, when Belomorskaya Oil Bulk Plant was created here, the loading racks have undergone complete renovation, and no leaks can possibly happen here from the equipment or the pipelines,” Khmelyov told Bellona.
Belomorskaya’s director said it is currently hard to determine precisely the area of pollution as there are also small local slicks only a millimetre or less thick.
However, Bellona has learnt from conversations with some of the company’s employees, who wished to remain unnamed, that oil leaks happen regularly at the enterprise – though they have never seen a spill as large as this most recent one.
“It is apparent that oil pollution in the area and part of the coastal line adjacent to the petrol storage depot is that of a chronic nature,” Nina Lesikhina, an expert with Bellona-Murmansk, said. “This may be due to an inefficient effluent water purification system at the plant, leaky storage tanks, or the accumulation of oil products in the soil over the many years, which then start seeping onto the surface, pushed by flood waters.”
Lesikhina said environmental authorities would yet have to establish the precise cause of this latest spill, but the responsibility for the accident would still lie solely and entirely with the owner of the storage depot.
“It is apparent that it was none other than neglect of the rules of environmental safety and lack of appreciation of ecological risks that has led to this pollution of the White Sea,” she added.
The spill is being investigated by the department for marine environmental safety supervision of the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) in the Northwest Federal District, which includes Murmansk Region.
According to the department’s head, Nina Sukhanova, an inspection of the Kandalaksha Bay coastline revealed that a stretch of the basin between the first and fourth piers was polluted with oil products. The slick was two to five millimetres thick.
“It has been established from a detailed survey of the coastline and the basin of Kandalaksha Bay that 71,000 square metres of the basin of the bay has been polluted in the area around […] Belomorskaya Petrol Bulk Plant. The water in the port is polluted within an area of 128,000 square metres. The total area of water pollution comes to 199,000 square metres, and shoreline pollution totals another 400 square metres,” Sukhanova told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Sukhanova said department specialists have attributed the oil spill to the spring flood, which caused oil products to seep out of the ground and spread from the territory of the storage depot across the adjacent area and into bay waters.
The experts drew up an inspection report, took soil and water samples, and determined the incident merited initiating an administrative violation case.
The ecological threat
Specialists are hard-pressed to assess at the moment the scope of resulting environmental damage, including to the nearby Kandalaksha National Park.
“Installing booms in the affected area is currently impeded by the ice conditions in the bay,” Sukhanova said.
Meanwhile, the spot where the oil products are leaking is just a kilometre and a half away from the territory of the Kandalaksha nature reserve.
“It is at this point difficult to estimate the consequences of the oil spill for the animals and birds of the Kandalaksha reserve,” said Ivetta Tatarenkova, an employee of the reserve’s. “The specialists will have yet to investigate the damage after this spill. There could be a threat to the eiders, which are not yet showing up on the shore.”
Kandalaksha is one of Russia’s oldest and northernmost nature reserves. Sprawling across 70,000 hectares, of which 70 percent accounts for part of the basins of the White and Barents Seas and includes over 370 islands, it is home to around 9,500 animal and bird species and was founded with the specific cause of protecting the invaluable eider population in the area.
According to Tatarenkova, these rare birds are currently staying in the water and, should the oil spill expand significantly across the bay waters, the birds will be at risk of smearing their wings with the oil. A slick has already been discovered by the Kandalaksha reserve’s specialists during an inspection of the area around one of the archipelago’s largest islands, Ryazhkov.
“The ice there is dirty, it’s black; the same can be observed near the island of Oleny. The invertebrates could come under harm, too – mussels, crayfish, and other families of the order,” Tatarenkova said.
Bellona-Murmansk specialists note that extensive oil pollution and generation of oil slicks on the surface of seawater prevents oxygen from entering the water, which impedes photosynthesis. The presence of oil and oil products in the water has thus a toxic effect on the animals and organisms inhabiting the sea.
Even insignificant amounts of pollutants can cause serious damage to the plant and animal life, environmentalists say. And in areas where low temperatures are prevalent throughout the year, the process of recovery from the stress of oil pollution is extremely slow for marine organisms and ecosystems.
Efforts are ongoing in the area to contain and clean up the spill; Belomorskaya petrol depot has deployed its coastal rescue brigade and the necessary equipment to handle the accident. More people and equipment have been engaged from the emergency rescue outfit called Navekoservice, a branch of Ecocentre group of companies, to assist in the efforts to prevent further expansion of the pollution.
According to Ecocentre head Alexander Glazov, what happened is an alarming sign indicating a broader syndrome that affects all petrol bulk plants on the Kola Peninsula: All of these enterprises are quite old and may well have accumulated spilled oil products in the ground and ground waters on their territory.
Specialists say the cleanup may take up to a month. Remediation measures will then have to be enacted to restore the soil and water in the polluted area. In order to rule out the risk of further pollution, a survey will then have to be conducted, followed by drilling a well to pump out the remaining oil. Save these measures, small and large slicks threatening local wildlife are bound to be observed in the bay each year that the spring season floods Kandalaksha with snowmelt waters after another snowy winter.
Bellona-Murmansk’s Lesikhina underscores the very high ecological risks of oil and gas operations in the Arctic territories, including dealing with the consequences, as the environmental danger is not just confined to the specific vulnerability of the Arctic climate to such impacts.
“Not only do the severe weather conditions precipitate the risk of accidents, but they also hamper timely and efficient emergency response to oil spills such as this,” she said.
By Tim Bradner
Alaska Journal of Commerce – original article here
Shell now has a more expansive exploration strategy for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas than what the company had previously planned.
The company intended to file plans of exploration in early May with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE, for up to 10 exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2012 and 2013, a Shell spokesman said.
Two drillships would be used.
Previously Shell planned to use one drillship in 2012 in the Beaufort, with an expectation of drilling one to two wells.
“We believe the conversations we are having with regulators and government officials are more positive in view of the safeguards we have put in place, even prior to Macondo,” said Pete Slaiby, Shell’s Alaska vice president. “As a result, we are cautiously optimistic we will be allowed to pursue a multi-well drilling program in 2012 as we have always planned.”
Not all of the wells outlined in the new exploration plans will actually be drilled, company spokesman Curtis Smith said.
“We file for permits for more wells than will actually be drilled so there is flexibility in changing locations depending on new geologic information or ice conditions,” he said.
Smith said the plan is now to use two drillships, with a goal of drilling two wells per year in the Beaufort Sea and three wells per year in the Chukchi Sea, he said.
Each drilling vessel would provide backup for the other in drilling a relief well in the event of a blowout, Smith said.
In the Arctic, offshore drilling must be done during the summer when the ice recedes, creating open water. The exception to this is with wells in near-shore coastal waters, where the depth is shallow enough to build an artificial gravel island.
In the 1980s, drillship were used in several exploration wells farther from shore in the Beaufort Sea, and there also were offshore exploration wells drilled in the Chukchi Sea, including many by Shell in the early 1990s.
No commercial discoveries were made in the 1980s and 1990s, but oil and gas was found in both the Beaufort and Chukchi at locations that are now the prime targets for Shell’s renewed exploration.
The drillships planned for Shell’s 2012 and 2013 work are the Noble Discoverer, which is now under contract to Shell for Arctic exploration but is now being used elsewhere, and the Kulluk, a drilling vessel built for the Arctic that Shell owns.
The Kulluk is now in Dutch Harbor, where it is undergoing modification, Smith said.
The new more aggressive plan represents a change in Shell’s strategy. The company previously planned to drill one to two wells in the Beaufort Sea, with one drillship, in 2012.
Shell will have to file new applications for air quality permits for each ship and for each area of drilling.
An air quality permit for Shell’s existing plan of drilling one well in the Beaufort Sea with a single drillship, previously planned for 2011 or 2012, is still pending with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 office in Seattle.
EPA had previously issued the permit but it was appealed by environmental groups to EPA’s internal Environmental Appeals Board. The appeals board kicked the permit back to Region 10 last January with a request for modifications.
The Region 10 office has yet to resubmit the modified air permit back to the appeals board.
Smith could not comment on the status of the permit but said Shell “is having good conversations with EPA and we’re optimistic.”
The air quality permits are similar for both the Beaufort and Chukchi, Smith said. The effort to resolve issued with the initial permit should make it easier with permits that follow.
Shell holds 137 federal OCS leases in the Beaufort Sea and 275 leases in the Chukchi Sea. The company has spent over $3 billion so far in its efforts to secure leases, do environmental work and secure permits for exploring the leases. About $2.2 billion of that was spent in bonus bids paid to the federal government for the Chukchi Sea leases.
Hornorkesteret says: Hands off the Antarctic, Shell! We do not approve of your presence there, even if it is “enhancing the leadership skills and environmental awareness of its personnel”.
On the contrary, we see this as part of an environmental hoax on Shell’s part, since they are one of the the world’s worst environmental offenders. Go home, Shell!
Published May 5th, 2011 by Al Bawaba – Original article here
Shell recently appointed two of its young professionals to join the 2011 International Antarctic Expedition led by renowned polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan. The initiative forms part of Shell’s commitment to enhancing the leadership skills and environmental awareness of its personnel. The two Shell professionals were joined by two other Emiratis from Dubai Airports.
The Antarctic expedition organized in March 2011 by Swan, the first person in history to walk to both the North and South poles, complements Shell’s renowned environmental activism. Shell was one of the first energy companies in 1997 to actively call for actions by governments, industry and energy users against climate change.
The inclusion of Shell representatives in the voyage also reflects the company’s unique approach to leadership development. In a 2010 study, 75 per cent of respondent organizations cited leadership development as important and yet only 23 per cent said that they were effective at developing leaders internally.
Majid Fairooz, Head of Planning, Buti Qurwash, Head of Security, at Dubai Airports, and Mohammed Azzazi, Production Technologist and Abdulrahim Turkistani from Shell gained valuable knowledge on Antarctic wildlife, geology, history and geography. They were introduced to Swan’s advocacy of preserving Antarctica and combating climate change via recycling, renewable energy and sustainability. They were also oriented on renewable energy’s vital role in preserving the environment.
“Shell is highly committed to addressing many of the environmental challenges. This requires a better understanding of how our operations affect the world’s eco-systems. Our active participation in advocacies such as Robert Swan’s 2041 programme will provide us with the information and hands-on experience we need to ensure more sustainable approaches to managing CO2 emissions.” said Omar Al Qurashi, Director of Communications, Shell in Dubai.
Anita Mehra, Vice President of Marketing & Corporate Communications, Dubai Airports, said, “Environmental sustainability is a high priority area for Dubai Airports and our goal is to build a corporate culture that embraces sustainability in every aspect. We believe that by being part of this expedition Majid and Buti have managed to raise greater interest about environmental concerns among their peers and colleagues, which could lead to other worthwhile contributions towards conservation.”
“The Antarctic expedition was and still is a life changing experience. The purpose of going to Antarctica became clear the day we returned home. We have to change perceptions about the environment that we live in and that change starts inside each individual. All of us can contribute to a better way of living. Small things can make a big difference,” said Fairooz.
Shell’s Abdulrahim Turkistani said, “This expedition was certainly a surreal experience for us. Besides being awestruck by the beauty of Antarctica, I learnt that while our planet can take care of itself, the resources it has are limited, making it imperative for us to live sustainably. This is the only way we can ensure that our future generations can continue to enjoy nature’s many wonders.”
Mohammed Azzazi commented, “Born in the Middle East, it was hard for me to visualize how an increase in temperature by one or two degrees could impact our planet. However, all this changed after my Antarctic expedition, which was a genuine eye opener. I now perfectly understand our mission at Shell and I commit to powering the world responsibly.”
The representatives from Shell and Dubai Airports together with their co- travellers boarded the 90.6-metre ‘Sea Spirit,’ an exploration ship that regularly conducts Antarctic, Arctic and other special interest voyages. Their eco-adventure began from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, passing through Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the Americas and stopping by King George Island, the location of the 2041 E-Base – the first education station built in Antarctica of sustainable products and run on renewable energy. The group visited the site of Robert Swan’s 2008 ‘E-Base Goes Live’ mission where the explorer became the first person in Antarctic history to live for two weeks solely on renewable energy.
Shell continues to develop innovative technologies and practices and engage in strategic partnerships to ensure that sustainability concepts are integrated into the entire energy value chain. The company also encourages governments to support policies covering the optimal management of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
William Pentland/Forbes Mar. 25 2011 – Original article here
The U.S. Navy is staging the aquatic-equivalent of a dog-and-pony show in the Arctic Ocean this month with a small fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
The military exercises are designed to bolster U.S. claims on emerging – and likely lucrative – commercial opportunities in the region, which have attracted intense interest in recent years as global warming accelerates what appears to be the permanent loss of sea ice in the Arctic.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported in early March that 2011 has tied with 2006 for the record low sea-ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean (in the satellite record). By the mid-2030s, scientists have predicted that the Arctic will be ice-free for at least one month of every summer, which will expand to two-to-three ice-free months by around mid-century.
The U.S. Navy has deployed two nuclear-powered submarines off the coast of Alaska close to a temporary camp constructed on the ice roughly 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay. The submarines are conducting military training exercises.
On March 7, 2011, the winter ice covering the Arctic reached its maximum size for the year at 5.65 million square miles, which is more than 20% below – or, 463,000 square miles – below the average annual coverage from 1979 to 2000 (6.12 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.
The exercises train U.S. submarine crews to deal with craggy ice keels that extend 20 to 50 feet into the water, and varying salinity levels that complicate communications and navigation under the ice cap.
Submarine crews practice surfacing the 8,000-ton submarines, directly through thick ice or in nearby open waters, and learn to avoid hitting another ship. The ice exercise, which did not include any torpedo testing, cost an estimated $3.5 million, according to Larry Estrada, director of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory which manages the camps with the Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington
The graph above shows daily Arctic sea ice extent as of March 22, 2011, along with daily ice extents for 2006, which had the previous lowest maximum extent, and 2007, the year with the lowest minimum extent in September. Light blue indicates 2011, green shows 2007, light green shows 2006, and dark gray shows the 1979 to 2000 average. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
A delegation of defense contractors and military brass visited the camp last week, according to Reuters. The training was meant to ensure that the United States maintained access to the Arctic, home to the world’s largest undiscovered oil and gas reserves. Russia, the United States, Denmark, Greenland, Canada and Norway, which border the Arctic, and China are also scrambling to control the region and access to the commercial ventures there.
“It is a key potential transit line between the Atlantic and the Pacific,” U.S. Navy Captain Rhett Jaehn, told Reuters. “We want to be able to demonstrate that we have global reach. That we can operate in all oceans, and that we can operate proficiently in any environment.”
Jaehn is the commanding officer for the more than two dozen Navy officials, researchers, engineers and scientists working at the temporary ice camp. Ironically, finding a thick enough ice sheet to support the temporary camp was among the difficulties the Navy encountered this year.
Receding ice levels are likely to open new shipping routes in the Arctic, which could ultimately make the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska a compelling alternative to shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.
HOUSTON, Mar. 23 — Statoil let a 200 million kroner contract to Aker Solutions for control umbilicals for the fast-track Fossekall-Dompap subsea development that will tie back the fields to the Norne floating production, storage, and offloading vessel in 380 m of water on Block 6608/10 in the Norwegian Sea. Fossekall, discovered in 2010 with well 6608/10-14, and Dompap, discovered in 2009 with well 6608/10-12, along with Vilje South are part of Statoil’s second-wave of fast-track projects. Statoil plans to start development drilling on the fields in March 2012 with production starting in December 2012. Statoil expects to recover from Fossekall 37-63 million bbl of oil and 1-3 billion cu m of gas. The company drilled the Fossekall discovery well, in 352 m of water, to 2,749 m into the Lower Jurassic Are formation and encountered oil in the Ile, Tofte, and Are formations and gas in the Melke formation. For Dompap, Statoil’s preliminary estimate is that the field holds 25-50 million bbl of recoverable oil. It drilled the exploration well 6608/10-12 to 3,158 m into the Lower Jurassic Are formation. Statoil also drilled the 6608-12 A sidetrack to 2,931 m that terminates in the same Are formation. The well is in 334 m of water. The 26 km of umbilicals ordered from Aker Solutions will have dynamic and static sections and will provide hydraulic, electrical, and fiber optic functions for three planned four-well-slot templates on Fossekall-Dompap. The umbilicals also include a 2.5-in. monoethylene glycol line for hydrate prevention and inhibition during shutdowns. Aker Solutions plans to manage the engineering of the control umbilicals at its Oslo facility and manufacture the umbilicals at its facility in Moss, Norway. It expects to make the final deliveries in second-quarter 2012. Fossekall-Dompap are in PL 128 and operator Statoil holds a 63.95% interest in the license. Partners are Petoro AS 24.55% and Eni Norge AS 11.5%.
Norway’s government has extended a 30-year moratorium on oil production on its Arctic shelf until 2013 under pressure from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the environmental organization said on Monday.
“The moratorium for Lofoten and Vesteralen [islands] in Norway’s northern arctic waters is part of an overall management plan for the Barents Sea that is aimed at protecting important areas for fish, sea birds, seals and whales,” the WWF said on its website, adding that the ban would last until 2013.
The moratorium is part of WWF-supported campaigns already under way in Alaska and Russia to protect fisheries and communities.
The wildlife protection campaigns are based on studies showing that oil returns in the long term would be less than returns from well-protected biological resources.
“It is complete madness to trade in a sustainable fishery that could continue to accommodate the interests of both people and nature for generations for a few years of quick and dirty profits from oil,” said Rasmus Hanssen, Secretary General of WWF Norway, according to the website.
The organization has long called for Russia to follow Norway’s suit and protect its biological resources from oil company expansion. In particular, a recent Rosneft-BP deal to jointly extract oil from the Arctic shelf has raised serious concerns among environmentalists. The companies plan to start drilling in 2015.