by Kiley Kroh and Michael Conathan
In a decision yesterday on offshore drilling in the Arctic, the Department of Interior undermined its own authority on regulating potentially devastating oil spills in the region.
Just like the cleanup of an oil spill in the Arctic, the permitting process is extraordinarily complicated — for a good environmental reason. It just got more complicated. But not in a good way.
As the government considers the logistics of Shell’s offshore Arctic drilling plans, it has created two different standards that could impact the ability to respond to a blowout or spill.
Last December, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) conditionally approved Shell Oil’s Exploration Plan to accompany its plans to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s North Slope. In so doing, BOEM took the reasonable step of shortening the approved drilling season by 38 days to ensure that if a spill occurred toward the end of the season, the company would still have time to clean it up before darkness, cold, and encroaching ice made the task impossible.
In approving Shell’s Beaufort Sea Oil Spill Response Plan, the agency’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) touted this reduction as a key element of ensuring adequate spill response capabilities.
But yesterday, BSEE approved Shell’s Oil Spill Response Plan for its proposed operations in the Beaufort Sea – for a drilling season extending through October 31st. The announcement, heralded by Shell as a “major milestone” in its effort to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer, came with assurances from BSEE Director James A. Watson that the organization’s “focus moving forward will be to hold Shell accountable.”
Yet, the inherent contradiction of allowing drilling to continue until November in the Beaufort when it would be shut down in late September in the Chukchi leads us to question the strength of the standard by which accountability will be measured. There’s no reason to think that if drilling is unsafe in one part of the Arctic in October, it would be safe in another.
Perhaps more importantly, yesterday’s approval will make it more difficult for the administration to defend its position from Shell’s challenge that a shorter Chukchi season is unnecessary. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith has already stated that this is a fundamental point of contention in the company’s challenge to the shorter Chukchi Season:
[The shortened season] would have a significant effect. We believe the restriction is unwarranted. There is no such restriction in our approved Plan of Exploration for the Beaufort Sea, and we are confused as to why it would be imposed for the Chukchi Sea.
As detailed in the recent Center for American Progress Report, Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling: America’s Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Arctic, any response effort would be severely hamstrung by the lack of infrastructure in place: the nearest permanent Coast Guard facility is over 1,000 miles away and there are no major roads, railroads, or ports along the North Slope. Further, weather conditions in the Arctic are extreme and often unpredictable. Allowing Shell to continue drilling until the region ices over significantly compromises the capacity to respond to a late-season blowout or spill.
For example, the “monster storm” that pummeled Alaska last year and prompted Gov. Parnell to declare a state of emergency hit just over a week after Shell’s proposed drilling season end date for the Beaufort. The brutal storm covered an area twice the size of Texas, produced hurricane-force winds, blizzard conditions, and coastal flooding, and spurred evacuations of many coastal communities. Any response effort would be impossible in such conditions. If safety and preparedness are indeed priorities, Shell’s plans should reflect that reality.
Granted, Shell has already been required to suspend drilling operations in the Beaufort from August 25 through the end of Alaskan natives’ subsistence bowhead whale hunt season. Shell clearly doesn’t want to operate with additional restrictions. If a similar 38-day reduction were imposed in the Beaufort, it would effectively mean all operations would have to stop in late August, which could threaten the economic viability of operations entirely.
But that can’t be the reason the Beaufort drilling season was extended. Could it?
Kiley Kroh is Associate Director of Communications for Oceans Communications at the Center for American Progress. Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.
- Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling: America’s Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Arctic
by Tom Kenworthy
In a stunning report last year, the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that substituting natural gas for coal as an energy source would actually increase global warming for many decades – unless methane leakage rates can be kept below 2%.
Even though we don’t know much about the actual leakage rate for methane – the major component of natural gas and a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 – that NCAR study is bad news. It’s especially bad for shale gas, in part because hydraulic fracturing is believed to have a higher life-cycle leakage rate during the production and transport phases of development.
In a separate NOAA study in February, researchers found that natural gas companies in a Colorado field were losing about 4% of methane during production, and that doesn’t include the losses from leaks in the pipeline and distribution system.
According to one environmental organization, controlling those leaks isn’t just necessary for the environment — it’s also potentially profitable.
A report just released by the Natural Resources Defense Council argues that industry – with strong government oversight – can reduce methane losses by 80%, and make $2 billion a year in the process by employing what the group calls “technically proven, commercially available, and profitable” control technologies.
Those ten technologies can be used at different stages of the production process: when drilling at hydraulic fracturing wells; when removing moisture from the gas; and when the gas is being compressed for transport through pipelines.
The report acknowledges that voluntary gas saving programs like the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR effort aren’t enough to stimulate this process, and that mandatory programs would need to be put in place. The EPA estimates that proposed regulations on new oil and gas sources coul reduce methane emissions by as much as 25%. NRDC recommends that leakage controls should also apply to existing oil and gas industry sources and that the federal government should be particularly tough on drilling operations on public lands.
Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands team at American Progress
GOP Will Try To Blame Democrats For Looming Highway Shutdown And ‘Pray The Senate Doesn’t Call Our Bluff’
When Congress was fighting over disaster relief funding in 2011, House Republicans passed a watered down funding bill and warned Senate Democrats not to block it. “Time for the Senate to do it’s [sic] job, stop threatening shutdown, stop playing politics, fund FEMA, and pass the CR,” Brad Dayspring, then a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), tweeted. There was only one catch: the Senate had already passed a bill funding disaster relief.
House Republicans are attempting a similar strategy now, just two days before the government’s spending authority for transportation expires. The Senate passed a bipartisan transportation bill last week, while House Republican leadership has struggled to get its conservative flank on board with any of its proposals.
Democrats have indeed blocked versions of the House’s disastrous transportation bill in an effort to get the bipartisan Senate bill, which garnered 22 Republican votes, passed through the House. But Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has ignored the Senate bill and has been unable to line up Republicans behind any of his proposals. Now, his spokesperson is attempting to blame Democrats for the GOP leadership’s inability to pass an extension, The Hill reports:
A spokesman for Boehner said Wednesday that the GOP had only moved to consideration of a 60-day extension because Democrats had said they would support it. The spokesman, Michael Steel, said that the fate of the extension of transportation funding is now “up to Democratic leadership.”
“It’s their choice as to whether to work in a bipartisan fashion or play political games with our country’s economy,” Steel said in a statement.
At least one Republican recognizes how ridiculous the GOP’s attempts to blame Democrats are. Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) told reporters Wednesday that the GOP’s strategy was to “pray the Senate doesn’t call our bluff.”
The Senate’s two-year package would save an estimated 1.9 million jobs and create as many as 1 million more, according to the bill’s bipartisan sponsors. In the event of a shutdown, the Highway Trust Fund, which funds infrastructure projects, would lose $110 million a day in gas tax revenues, and states would be forced to delay entire transportation projects. Instead of passing that bill, though, House Republicans are planning to pass a short-term extension before skipping town for recess, leaving the Senate to clean up their mess.
NHS trusts will be required to produce annual sustainability reports as from this year under new laws announced by the Department of Health. Trusts will be required to chart their sustainability progress as part of their annual reporting obligations.
The legislation, which came into effect last week, aims to tackle the NHS’s immense carbon impact which totals 20m tonnes of CO2. According to the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, the health service is responsible for 25% of the UK’s public sector carbon footprint.
To coincide with the new regulations, carbon reduction charity The Nottingham Energy Partnership has published a league table of all UK trusts’ public reporting on sustainability to date.
The data shows that many trusts have already taken action to reduce emissions before the mandate came into effect, however a substantial majority still have work to do to meet the new standards.
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