About 95 metric tons of oil leaked into the North Sea on Sunday from BP‘s Clair platform, and it will be left in the ocean. BP says the oil is moving away from land and dispersing naturally, but the spill is a reminder that accidents happen as more oil development is eyed for the Arctic.
In what BP called a “technical issue,” oil was released into the North Sea, located about 46 miles, west of the Shetland Islands. BP shut down the oil rig and said it is investigating the accident.
The oil company said it had conducted five aerial surveys with three more planned for Tuesday to monitor the oil slick.
“It is considered that the most appropriate response remains to allow the oil to disperse naturally at sea, but contingencies for other action have been prepared and are available, if required,” BP said.
In addition to Clair, BP operates the Quad204 facility in the North Sea, 108 miles west of Shetland, in a field that has been drilled since 1998. The North Sea has seen oil and gas extraction for decades, with about half of the estimated reserves having already been taken. Oil production peaked in 1999, but production has been on an upswing in recent years. A recent discovery off Norway, the Johan Sverdrup oil field, is expected to begin production in 2019.
According to energy consultancy Crystol Energy, “The Johan Sverdrup field is expected to be one of the most important industrial projects in Norway over the next 50 years.”
From 2000 to 2011, there were 4,123 separate oil spills in the North Sea, according to an investigation by The Guardian. Oil companies were fined for just seven of them. No single fine was greater than about $25,000.
There have been a number of major oil spills in the North Sea—the largest of which was the 1977 Bravo blowout that released an estimated 80,000 to 126,000 barrels of oil. The well spewed oil for seven days. In 2011, Shell spilled more than 200 metric tons from the Gannet Alpha platform, and a 2007 mishap while a tanker was loading oil resulted in a spill of 4,000 metric tons, or about 25,000 barrels of oil. None of these spills were alleged to have any ecological impact, and all but the Bravo blowout were allowed to disperse, unchecked, by the sea.
As the Arctic Ocean warms, oil giants are eyeing the northern seas for more oil exploration and development. It is a dangerous environment in which to drill.
The Arctic lacks the infrastructure to stop, mitigate or clean up a major oil spill, or even to quickly aid workers on a damaged platform.
But that isn’t stopping oil companies. Today, Caelus Energy boasted of a “world-class” discovery that could turn out to be one of the largest finds in Alaska. In a press release, Caelus CEO Jim Musselman called the find “really exciting” and the company said the Smith Bay complex could produce 200,000 barrels of oil per day.
“Without the state tax credit programs, none of this would’ve happened, and I’m not sure Caelus would’ve come to explore in Alaska,” Musselman added.
In June, 400 scientists signed a letter urging President Obama to stop any further oil development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. A 2014 study found that the polar bear population in the Southern Beaufort Sea had dropped by an astounding 40 percent from 2001 to 2010.
“Accidents can and do happen, and in this extreme environment, the only truly safe approach to protect the unique and fragile Arctic offshore environment is no drilling whatsoever,” Brad Ack, World Wildlife Fund‘s senior vice president for oceans, said in July.
The Kulluk, Shell’s Arctic offshore drilling platform, was grounded in 2013 after efforts by the US Coast Guard and tug vessel crews to move the vessel to a safe harbor during a winter storm. Zachary Painter/ US Coast Guard/
Earlier this month, the Obama administration gave conditional approval to a renewed plan for Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil offshore of Alaska’s Arctic Ocean coast in the Chukchi Sea.
“As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards,” the director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said in announcing the approval. In response, Shell has moved quickly to mobilize equipment and personnel to conduct drilling operations in this area as early as this summer.
The key question addressed here concerns the “safety” of the proposed exploratory drilling operations.
Both Shell and the Department of Interior contend the proposed operations can be performed “safely.” Both organizations understand nothing beneficial will come if there is a major accident, such as an uncontrolled blowout during the proposed drilling operations.
However, the available evidence indicates the Department of Interior and Shell have not applied the best available risk assessment and management technology to configure the proposed drilling system and its operations to assure they are safe enough.
Safety is defined as “freedom from undue exposure to injury or harm.”
Safety means the likelihoods and consequences of major accidents are “tolerable” (acceptable, safe enough). Accidents with potentially high consequences should have a low likelihood of occurring. What is deemed to be safe is a function of what is determined to be a tolerable risk.
To be valid and realistic, quantitative estimates of the likelihoods and consequences of major accidents must be assessed using the best available knowledge. One must make diligent efforts to eliminate a wide variety of human and organizational biases that can distort risk analyses. Effective internal and external validation processes are the key to neutralize these biases.
Risk estimates are based on the proposed configuration of the integrated “system” of hardware as well as the human, organizational and environmental components. Special attention is devoted to understanding potential interdependencies and interactions among the interconnected system components and how the system might fail.
To prevent and mitigate major accidents, experts have processes and strategies to assess and manage the risk of a system configuration at different stages during the life of a system. These analyses assess the risk before an activity is performed, during activities, and after the activities are done. Personal safety is a subset of system safety.
These three integrated, coordinated approaches are meant to reduce the likelihoods and consequences of major system accidents and to increase proper detection, analysis and correction of expected and unexpected deviations in system performance.
Special attention is given to the different categories of uncertainties that pervade the life cycle performance of complex hardware and human organizational systems in different hazardous environments. These include natural variabilities, analysis model uncertainties, and variations in human and organizational performance. Other factors include information access, analysis and other uncertainties (unknown knowables and unknown unknowables).
‘Goal-based’ risk assessment and management
Tolerable risks are defined from structured collaborative processes involving the affected societies, industry and commerce, governments (local, state, federal) and representatives of the potentially affected environments.
The system regulator – in this case, the Department of Interior – is responsible for definition of the tolerable risks. The system owner–operator, Royal Dutch Shell, is responsible for development of the risk assessments. The objective is to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the regulatory agencies that the risks are tolerable – a term called As Low As Reasonably Practicable by risk management professionals – during the life of the entire system.
Such goal-based risk assessment and management regulatory processes currently are being applied for drilling operations in the UK and Norwegian Sectors of the North Sea and offshore Canada and Australia. In several of these areas, the processes are identified as a Safety Case Regime.
For example, in Australian offshore oil and gas exploration, production, and transportation operations:
“A facility cannot be constructed, installed, operated, modified, or decommissioned without a Safety Case in force for that stage in the life of the facility.”
In the US, comparable risk assessment and management processes – called Process Safety Management – are used for commercial nuclear power generation facilities, and in some cases, in operations of oil and gas chemical refining and processing facilities.
Shell’s 2012 Arctic program
In the case of the proposed drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, we are concerned primarily with a major accident involving an uncontrolled blowout of oil and gas from the exploratory well during the drilling operations.
The provisionally approved plans submitted to the Department of Interior include system task performance and equipment risk mitigations intended to control the likelihoods and consequences of uncontrolled blowouts.
These plans are based on the current “best practices” defined and specified by the Department of Interior. Shell does have significant experience with system risk assessment and management processes, including those that follow the Safety Case Regimes and Process Safety Management disciplines.
In 2012, Shell unsuccessfully attempted to drill in the Chukchi Sea, an ill-fated venture that included the grounding of the Kulluk drill rig and the failure of the oil spill containment dome. The failures experienced during the initial parts of that exploratory drilling program indicated that neither the Department of Interior’s permit guidelines and requirements, which were revised after the Deepwater Horizon spill, nor the risk assessment and management processes employed by Shell were effective.
Of particular importance was the finding by the US Coast Guard investigation into the grounding of the Kulluk drill rig that “inadequate management of risks by the parties involved was the most significant causal factor of the mishap.”
It was clear that Shell did not properly employ the Safety Case Regime risk assessment and management processes they had successfully used in other offshore areas that require the application of this technology. Shell’s claim that “…Shell has used the Safety Case Approach recommended by the National Commission…for all its contracted drill rigs, globally, for many years” failed to prevent the failures.
Further, it was clear in the wake of the Kulluk incident that the Department of Interior’s guidelines and requirements, developed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well spill in the Gulf of Mexico, also failed to produce the desired results.
One of the major problems is that the Department of Interior oil and gas operations and Arctic operations guidelines and requirements are not based on Safety Case Regime system risk assessment and management processes.
Following the uncontrolled blowout disaster of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, there were investigations by the US National Commission in 2011, the Deepwater Horizon Study Group and the Chemical Safety Board. These studies recommended that the Department of Interior integrate Safety Case Regime system risk assessment and management processes into their traditional experience-based “prescriptive” component-by-component, task performance guidelines and requirements.
Instead, with significant encouragement from the US oil and gas industry, the Department of Interior chose to continue to update and add to the existing best practices prescriptive guidelines, with some of the improvements suggested as a result of the post-Macondo investigations.
In addition, in February 2015, the Department of Interior issued new guidelines specifically for offshore Arctic operations. The Department of Interior also issued a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement covering drilling in this region. The final approved guidelines have not been issued as of this date, and it is not clear how these requirements will be applied to the conduct of Shell’s drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
Given this background, what is the concern regarding the safety of the proposed exploratory drilling systems operations?
The concern is that neither the Department of Interior or Shell have determined, demonstrated or documented that the risks associated with an uncontrolled blowout that develops during the proposed drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea meet established requirements for system risk tolerability and safety outlined earlier.
Instead, reliance is being placed on the Department of Interior best practices of experienced-based, “piece by piece” prescriptive guidelines and regulations. These have not been proved or demonstrated to be adequate for the unique drilling systems, operations and environment involved in Shell’s operations in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
The stakes are too high and the potential risks too great for the best available risk assessment and management – Safety Case Regime – processes not to be diligently applied to the proposed drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea.
If we decide to do otherwise, then we must depend on the proper application of the existing guidelines and processes that have been permitted by the Department of Interior to deliver the required safety. We must be prepared to accept the consequences of this decision. Author: Robert Bea Professor Emeritus Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at University of California, Berkeley Source: The Conversation
Ice has been a relatively constant feature of the Arctic for most of the past 36 million years, but there have been some gaps. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what happened during the most recent major ice-free period, but it’s often considered an analog to our future, warmer Earth. The only difference is, the gap in Arctic sea ice that scientists believe will happen by midcentury is being caused by us.*
Scientists are now piecing together the puzzle in an increasingly urgent attempt to understand what might happen once Arctic ice goes away again, effectively for good. One new study, published last week in the journal Nature Communications, attempts determine what happened during that last major gap in Arctic ice.
The study provides new evidence that the last major gap ended about 2.6 million years ago, after which ice sheets spread southward and humanity’s ancestors began to respond to colder temperatures in Africa, forcing adaptation like the use of stone tools. Humans themselves wouldn’t evolve for more than a million more years.
The study cites geological changes in the Arctic region, like mountainous uplifts and the connection of North and South America in present-day Panama, as mostly responsible for the burst of ancient ice. Those changes altered ocean dynamics and sharply increased the availability of freshwater in the Arctic, which freezes more easily than salty water.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers used a proxy for the presence of sea ice—a “mono-unsaturated highly branched isoprenoid lipid” that’s produced by single-celled sea plants and deposited in ancient sediment at the bottom of the ocean. The sediment core sample they obtained spans more than 4 million years—a complete chronicle of the entire ancient ice-free period. The samples were taken from the Fram Strait, off the east coast of Greenland.
Here’s the rough timeline they came up with (with some additional dates for perspective):
5.3 million years ago, there were dense spruce and pine forests in the far northern Arctic. Greenland had 30 percent less ice than today, and global seas were about 60 feet higher.
4 million years ago, there was about as much ice in the winter as currently exists in the summer, and summers were probably ice-free. This is an analog for what we may experience in the near future; estimates suggest global temperatures could rise four degrees Celsius higher than today in the next 85 years, about as hot as temperatures were back then.
2.6 million years ago, geologic uplift forced the closure of Arctic Ocean gateways, like the Bering Strait, and thermally isolated the region. That restricted the Arctic’s circulation, causing a build-up of fresh water and conditions favorable for major ice sheets to form. From that point, there was runaway cooling as ice sheets grew as far south as present-day St. Louis and New York City. The most current cycle of ice ages began, and human ancestors were forced to adapt. This started the transition that would result in homo sapiens.
200,000 years ago, modern humans emerged.
12,000 years ago, the most recent ice age ended, setting the stage for the beginning of human civilization.
250 years ago, coal was first used to power steam engines in England.
1 year ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches 400 parts per million for the first time in at least 800,000 years, probably longer.
It took 100,000 generations for human ancestors to transition to something resembling us. For each of those 100,000 generations, the planet was crowned with ice. Now, that ice will probably go away. That incredibly rapid rate of change—10 times faster than any change recorded over the past 65 million years—is extinction-worthy. The research will help improve models of a melting Arctic, so we can better understand the implications for those of us that’ll have to deal with them. Our ancestors didn’t see their version of climate change coming. Our descendants will.
Correction, Dec. 2, 2014: This post originally misstated that the Arctic is facing a gap in sea ice. This gap is expected by scientists to occur by midcentury, but is not occurring now.
How many synonyms for “grim” can I pack into one article? I had to consult the thesaurus: ghastly, horrid, awful, shocking, grisly, gruesome.
This week, a big report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was leaked before publication, and it confirmed, yet again, the grim—dire, frightful—reality the we face if we don’t slash our global greenhouse gas emissions, and slash them fast.
This “Synthesis Report,” to be released in November following a UN conference in Copenhagen, is still subject to revision. It is intended to summarize three previous UN climate publications and to “provide an integrated view” to the world’s governments of the risks they face from runaway carbon pollution, along with possible policy solutions.
As expected, the document contains a lot of what had already been reported after the three underpinning reports were released at global summits over the past year. It’s a long list of problems: sea level rise resulting in coastal flooding, crippling heat waves and multidecade droughts, torrential downpours, widespread food shortages, species extinction, pest outbreaks, economic damage, and exacerbated civil conflicts and poverty.
But in general, the 127-page leaked report provides starker language than the previous three, framing the crisis as a series of “irreversible” ecological and economic catastrophes that will occur if swift action is not taken.
Here are five particularly grim—depressing, distressing, upsetting, worrying, unpleasant—takeaways from the report.
1. Our efforts to combat climate change have been grossly inadequate. The report says that anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase from 1970 to 2010, at a pace that ramped up especially quickly between 2000 and 2010. That’s despite some regional action that has sought to limit emissions, including carbon-pricing schemes in Europe. We haven’t done enough, the United Nations says, and we’re already seeing the effects of inaction. “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history,” the report says. “The climate changes that have already occurred have had widespread and consequential impacts on human and natural systems.”
2. Keeping global warming below the internationally agreed upon 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (above preindustrial levels) is going to be very hard. To keep warming below this limit, our emissions need to be slashed dramatically. But at current rates, we’ll pump enough greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to sail past that critical level within the next 20 to 30 years, according to the report. We need to emit half as much greenhouse gas for the remainder of this century as we’ve already emitted over the past 250 years. Put simply, that’s going to be difficult—especially when you consider the fact that global emissions are growing, not declining, every year. The report says that to keep temperature increases to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, deep emissions cuts of between 40 and 70 percent are needed between 2010 and 2050, with emissions “falling towards zero or below” by 2100.
3. We’ll probably see nearly ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean before mid-century. The report says that in every warming scenario it the scientists considered, we should expect to see year-round reductions in Arctic sea ice. By 2050, that will likely result in strings of years in which there is the near absence of sea ice in the summer, following a well-established trend. And then there’s Greenland, where glaciers have been retreating since the 1960s—increasingly so after 1993—because of man-made global warming. The report says we may already be facing a situation in which Greenland’s ice sheet will vanish over the next millennium, contributing up to 23 feet of sea level rise.
4. Dangerous sea level rise will very likely impact 70 percent of the world’s coastlines by the end of the century. The report finds that by 2100, the devastating effects of sea level rise—including flooding, infrastructure damage, and coastal erosion—will impact the vast majority of the world’s coastlines. That’s not good: Half the world’s population lives within 37 miles of the sea, and three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast, according to the United Nations. The sea has already risen significantly: From 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.62 feet.
5. Even if we act now, there’s a real risk of “abrupt and irreversible” changes. The carbon released by burning fossil fuels will stay in the atmosphere and the seas for centuries to come, the report says, even if we completely stop emitting CO2 as soon as possible. That means it’s virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100. Without strategies to reduce emissions, the world will see 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming above preindustrial temperatures by the end of the century, condemning us to “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, [and] consequential constraints on common human activities.”
What’s more, the report indicates that without action, the effects of climate change could be irreversible: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”
Grim, indeed. ———————————- Climatechangeplanet comment:
It’s both sad and alarming that no one (except the usual few) has paid attention to all the previous (five I think) reports of the IPCC. And it’s absurd that states like Canada, Norway and others, see the melting of the arctic ice only as an opportunity to exploit the fossil fuels, indifferent to the consequences.
Four years ago this week, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill platform exploded. Eleven workers died that day. Their bodies were never found. Over the next 87 days, 210 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. It fouled fishing grounds, ravaged the coastline, and shut down tourism. The world got an ugly look at some of the terrible hidden costs of fossil fuels. Spill-related health problems plague the people and the wildlife of the Gulf to this very day.
I personally hoped that we, as a nation, would quickly learn from this tragedy and move swiftly to prevent a repeat disaster in our most vulnerable coastal environments. So it boggles the mind that Shell Oil is still determined to drill in one of the most fragile and remote ecosystems on Earth: the Arctic Ocean — the last bastion of America’s polar bears, endangered bowhead whales and other rare wildlife. For Native Alaskans who live along the coast, this ocean has been the source of their food security and a way of life since time immemorial.
Robert Redford: This Earth Day Let’s Stand Up to Big Oil – NRDC
It’s sheer madness to drill in the Arctic — in treacherous conditions of gale-force winds, 20-foot seas, sub-zero temperatures, shifting currents — and for eight months of the year — solid pack ice. If the oil industry was utterly unprepared for a blowout in the balmy Gulf of Mexico, how in the world can we trust them in a treacherous environment like the Arctic? Nobody knows how to clean up oil there, even during the open water season. And once the ice and long Arctic night close in, there’d be zero hope of plugging a blow-out or containing a spill.
Those harsh conditions also guarantee human and mechanical error. During a disastrous 2012 attempt at Arctic drilling, Shell Oil experienced fires, leaks, slipped anchors, emergency gear that was “crushed like a beer can,” and a 30-mile iceberg that sent its ships fleeing.
A just-released Coast Guard report says Shell’s reckless and failed attempt to tow its Arctic Ocean drill rig in 2012 was riddled with poor planning and judgment — and involved numerous potential violations of the law.
Then, a couple of months ago, the Arctic caught a huge break. A federal appeals court ruled that in 2008, when the government approved drilling there, it wildly underestimated the risks of spills and other hazards. That has stopped all drill efforts for now. And it’s created a golden opportunity for President Obama to chart a new course by putting the Arctic completely off-limits to Shell and every other oil company — for good.
It also sets the president up to lead the fight against climate change. Left to their own devices, oil companies will drill and unleash every last bit of carbon-polluting crude they can get their hands on. Just two weeks ago ExxonMobil said it “takes the risk of climate change seriously,” but that they’d go right on digging and burning all their oil reserves.
To be blunt, that is crazy talk. There’s a clear scientific consensus that pumping that much carbon into the atmosphere will change life on Earth as we know it.
That’s why I made this video, calling on all Americans to stand up to Big Oil by asking President Obama to ban oil drilling in the Arctic and lead the way to a future powered by 100% clean energy. Please make your own voice heard at www.DemandCleanPower.org. But don’t delay. In a court filing last week, Shell indicated it’s counting the days till it can get back into the Arctic. We have to make sure that never happens.