Remembering Exxon Valdez: Obama Should Cancel Leases in Gulf and Arctic

exoon spill clean

By Margie Alt and Cindy Shogan, EcoWatch -24 March 16
Source: Reader Supported News

Today marks the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez catastrophe—the 11-million-gallon oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound that remains one of the largest human-caused environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Twenty-seven years later, in some ways, not much has changed. The devastation from the spill lingers. Crude oil remains beneath beaches. The orca whale population continues to struggle. Crab and shrimp populations have yet to fully recover.

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the largest catastrophe in U.S. history. Shell’s Kulluk drill rig running aground on New Year’s Eve 2012 offered a new, horrific reminder of the risk of offering up one of the world’s most remote and diverse marine environments to oil and gas development.

And last week, the Obama administration issued its latest plan for more drilling and inevitable spilling. The proposal includes 10 new lease areas for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and three in Alaskan waters – two of which are located in the Arctic Ocean.

But many changes over the last three decades also point to a clean energy future. In fact, the scientific, economic and political momentum to stop new drilling proposals and wean ourselves off fossil fuels altogether is increasingly on our side.

Nearly 200 nations have agreed to a goal of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, a benchmark scientists say we can only meet if we keep the vast majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground. There’s no better place to start than with the fragile Arctic, and with a just transition off fossil fuels that begins with no new drilling in the Gulf.

Time and again, the Obama administration has also proved itself willing to listen to the call of opposition to ocean drilling.

Last year the administration canceled existing drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean, following the actions of “kayaktivists” who sought to block Shell’s icebreaker headed north from Portland, Oregon.

Earlier this month President Obama announced a wide-ranging joint climate agreement with Canada, pledging to take into account climate science and emergency response plans when determining future oil and gas development in the Arctic Ocean.

Last week, the Department of the Interior withdrew the southern Atlantic Ocean from its leasing proposal after an outcry from citizens, businesses and local governments up and down the coast.

Just yesterday, in the face of spirited protests at the symbolically-charged Superdome in New Orleans, the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management even temporarily shut down their auction of drilling leases in the Gulf.

Of course, Exxon and its ilk are pushing for the ways of the past. A year ago, in public comments submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Exxon’s Vice President urged the administration to maintain all its proposed leasing areas, and even add the entire eastern Gulf of Mexico, which is currently protected by moratorium. The oil company also lamented at that time that certain areas of Alaska had been removed from consideration.

Today, help us ride the wave of change and push past Exxon and other polluters. Remember the Exxon Valdez disaster by urging the Obama administration to drop its proposals for new drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf.


The Arctic Is Melting and Big Business is Chomping at the Bit to Dig In

arctic drilling

By Alejandro Davila Fragoso, Think Progress – 27 January 16
Source: Readers Supported News

Standing at a podium before the World Economic Forum, Leonardo DiCaprio briefly smiled as he received an award for his leadership in tackling climate change. Once settled under the spotlight, he quickly moved away from his grateful statements, and began railing on corporate avarice.

“We simply cannot allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil, and gas industries to determine the future of humanity,” said DiCaprio last week while at Davos, Switzerland, where some 2,500 top global business leaders, politicians, and intellectuals gathered to discuss politics, economics, and social issues.

Fossil fuels must be kept in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, he continued. “Enough is enough. You know better. The world knows better.”

But while DiCaprio was cheered Wednesday as he stepped off the stage with his Crystal award, the international business community appears interested in venturing into new areas despite potential ecological costs. In fact, a day after recognizing environmental leadership, a World Economic Forum advisory group launched the Arctic Investment Protocol, and with that came a tacit push for extracting resources from one of the least-developed areas of the world.

The Arctic Investment Protocol is a voluntary set of guidelines for nations looking to do business where diminished ice coverage from man-made climate change is allowing access to once-unreachable sea routes as well as vast mineral and fossil fuel reservoirs.

The protocol calls for building resilient societies through economic development, pursuing measures to protect the Arctic environment, and respecting and including local communities, to name a few. The Guggenheim Partners, a major global investment and financial services firm, quickly endorsed the protocol, saying the Arctic represents one of the last great economic frontiers.

With more than $240 billion in assets, Guggenheim Partners was the first major firm to endorse these guidelines. In doing so, it also gave a strong indication of where global business is headed as South America, Asia, and Africa receive increasing investment. “The Arctic Investment Protocol is an important step forward and a solid foundation upon which to build for the future,” said Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, in a statement.

On the one hand, such a business trend would bring economic prosperity and infrastructure that experts say is lacking in many Arctic communities. On the other, human history shows that economic development is very often intertwined with ecological costs.

Exponential Arctic development thus raises serious environmental questions involving a region known for its fragile endemic species, where maritime environmental protection codes are in infancy, and so remote that pollution cleanup operations are difficult and costly. Not to mention the major role the Arctic plays in global climate since its already receding ice reflects a large amount of solar radiation, all while holding onto CO2 that if released would accelerate global warming.

And yet the northernmost region of the world has seen its share of development for many years. Researchers reached said the Arctic became part of the global economy at least two centuries ago with the emergence of the whaling industry, followed by oil and gas exploration. Researchers noted, however, that a new boom is taking place because the area is more accessible, and that Guggenheim could be a watershed for even more investment.

This comes as studies have found that Arctic ice is receding and thinning at an accelerated pace. Annual mean ice thickness has decreased from nearly 12 feet in 1975 to some four feet in 2012, a 65 percent reduction, according to a 2015 study. Moreover, the Arctic warms twice as fast (or more) than the Earth as a whole does.

“You can say that it is the era of [the] Arctic,” said Mohamed A. Essallamy, an expert in Arctic maritime issues and a professor at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, via email to ThinkProgress.

In 2009, only five cargo ships went through the Russian Northern Sea Route, according to a recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations. By 2013, that figured climbed to 71. Meanwhile, investment in the Arctic could potentially exceed $100 billion within the next six years, according to a 2012 Arctic Opening report by Lloyd’s of London Ltd, the world’s oldest insurance market.

Profiting from the Arctic is costly, however. In a statement, Guggenheim Partners said the Arctic needs about $1 trillion in infrastructure. The firm said it’s working with international partners to establish the Arctic infrastructure inventory to identify and prioritize such needs across the region.

“There is a great need for infrastructure,” said Jessica M. Shadian, a researcher and professor at Iceland’s University of Akureyri, in a phone interview with ThinkProgress. Telecommunications, affordable energy, but also more basic infrastructure like sewage and potable water is lacking in many areas, she said.

“People want economic development in the Arctic, in the north, just as much as anyone does anywhere else,” said Shadian, who like many noted that local support for economic development is abundant, even if that development means unearthing fossil fuels.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, she said, are just two large examples of organizations owned by Arctic communities that back resource extraction. Environmentalists in the Arctic and elsewhere have questioned development for years as well, saying extraction will industrialize land, pollute water, and generate greenhouse gas pollution.

Just last week, Greenpeace Norway director Truls Gulowsen told Climate Home that the group aims to challenge oil development in Norwegian courts. “We have already discovered more fossil fuels than it is safe to burn in a 1.5°C or 2°C scenario,” he said.

Last year governments agreed on a framework that puts the world on track to limit global warming to no more than 2°C, a threshold many in the scientific community say will prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. By some estimates, this threshold requires keeping as much as two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

For the Arctic, moreover, development may come at time of serious local environmental frailty. In recent research, Essallamy explained that many Arctic species live long and produce only a few offspring, making them particularly sensitive to any change that could affect mortality. He further noted that slow biological processes lead to slow revegetation, so for instance, impacts on tundra from heavy vehicles may be observed for decades. And then there are invasive species that ships could bring and the unavoidable leakages of lubricant and fuel oils.

All these effects would come as maritime environmental protection codes are barely developing, and when laws in the high seas are difficult to enforce to begin with. In fact, a code for ships operating in polar waters is yet to be applied. The International Maritime Organization has adopted regulations in the last couple of years and more are expected, Essallamy said, but the earliest polar code will come into force in 2017.

Still, the notion that the Arctic is lawless is deceptive, experts said. For more than two decades the Arctic Council, a high level intergovernmental forum including arctic governments and indigenous communities, has been meeting to promote coordination. It has eight member countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.

“The fortunate aspect about a lot of parts of the Arctic is that they are in highly developed countries,” said Shadian, “and so you are not going to really see just extracting resources at any cost because there are a lot of environmental standards.”

Drue Pearce, a former Alaska State senator, said in an email to ThinkProgress that in Alaska the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 that regulates development, “and the rest of every permitting process, is more rigorous than anywhere else in the world.”

The Arctic region has nonetheless suffered ecological damages for years. Russia has struggled to enforce its environmental standards, although it holds stringent environmental laws, experts said. According to published reports, environmentalist and experts agreed that at least 1 percent of Russia’s annual oil production, or 5 million tons, is spilled every year. Much of the spillage reportedly happens in the oil-rich Russian Arctic.

Alaska too, has had its share of issues with oil, most notably during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the 1980s. Responding to environmentalist catastrophes — and other emergencies — is quite difficult and costly, experts said, and many resources need to be concentrated in developing safety systems.

Two Russian oil workers use a boat and shovels to gather oil and mud from the waters of a small river, a tributary of the Kolva River, some 37 miles north of Usinsk, an Arctic town six miles from the Arctic Circle in Russia, Friday, Oct. 28, 1994. (photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Two Russian oil workers use a boat and shovels to gather oil and mud from the waters
of a small river, a tributary of the Kolva River, some 37 miles north of Usinsk,
an Arctic town six miles from the Arctic Circle in Russia, Friday, Oct. 28, 1994.
(photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Yet Shadian said local communities that have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years still don’t necessarily agree that their development should be discounted, particularly over climate change. The brunt of climate change, she said, didn’t originate in the Arctic. “What happens in the south doesn’t stay in the south, it goes straight to the Arctic.”

And with that, Shadian touched on how the world may be unfairly weighing on development and the environmental costs associated with climate change, an issue that has received increased attention in recent times. During the Paris climate talks for instance, the issue of how rich nations have benefited from fossil fuels while passing many of the costs to developing countries was front and center. This in turn emboldened the argument that resource demand in some areas drives resource extraction elsewhere, which when ill-managed exacerbates climate change and increases the risk for ecological disasters.

For the Arctic, this argument and the ecological paradox it carries is no different, and in part places the responsibility of what happens in the Arctic on the global consumer. That’s because economic theory says demand largely drives supply, and if that’s the case, then global demand will establish the rate of Arctic development, not the other way around.

Indeed, as commodity prices continue declining in value, costly Arctic development may very well be following the same trend, at least in the short term. “Right now mineral and oil and gas prices are so low that a little bit of a hype in the Arctic is dying down,” said Shadian, who like many others who’ve lived in the region, welcomed Arctic development, so long it’s environmentally responsible and sensible to local control.

“The Arctic is not any different when it comes to development or the right to do so,” said Inuuteq Holm Olsen, a Greenland diplomat, in an email to ThinkProgress. “For us, it is not a choice between development or the environment. The right to development is a universally recognized principle and that applies to the Arctic as well.” – Eyewitness to Extreme Weather

Impacts from climate change are happening now, and people everywhere are sharing in real-time just how bad things are. Here is a gathering of posts people have shared from all over the world. – Eyewitness to Extreme Weather.

EU Gets Ready to Open Canadian Tar Sands Floodgate


By Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

Despite protest, lawmakers poised to give legislative handout to industry that peddles one of world’s dirtiest fossil fuels


After years of lobbying to break into European markets, Canada’s tar sands oil industry is poised to score a victory from EU lawmakers who have signaled willingness to drop a requirement that labels tar sands oil as dirtier than other fossil fuels.

The EU agreed five years ago to a piece of climate legislation called the ‘Fuel Quality Directive,’ which was to go into effect in 2010 with the aim of cutting transport fuel emissions by 6 percent by 2020. Yet thanks to heavy industry lobbying and government stalling, the plan still has not gone into effect years later.

Both the Financial Times and Reuters reported Thursday that the EU is likely to weaken the language of the not-yet-implemented plan by scrapping a requirement that bitumen—oil extracted from tar sands—be labeled as high-emissions diesel. The higher rating would have discouraged, but not prevented, imports.

A draft document drawn up by the European Commission will, if implemented, allow companies to sidestep penalties on tar sands imports. “Under the new methodology, companies would only have to make their emission cuts based on EU averages for the ‘output’ fuels – the petrol or diesel – regardless of whether it was originally made from heavy crude or not,” the Financial Times explains.

One of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, bitumen produces up to five times more carbon than conventional crude oil. The extraction process is extremely energy-intensive, destructive to ecosystems, and creates large reservoirs of toxic waste. Environmental groups have argued that proposed regulations in previous drafts of the Fuel Quality Directive were already too lax, and that tar sands should simply stay in the ground.

The government of Canada and the oil industry have aggressively opposed potential EU penalties on bitumen imports, and Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford pressed the issue in sideline conversations at the G7 meetings in Rome last month.

Meanwhile, environmental protesters rallied this week against what is believed to be the first large shipment of bitumen to Europe, which arrived in Spain from Canada.

“Tar sands are deadly for our climate and must be kept in the ground and out of Europe,” said Colin Roche of Friends of the Earth in a statement about the delivery. “To give a lifeline to this dangerous industry is to set us up for climate disaster.”

Source: RSN

Tar Sands Emissions Linked to Serious Health Problems in Alberta


By Andy Rowell, Oil Change International, 02 April 14

 In a landmark report to Alberta’s energy regulator, a panel of experts has concluded that odors from a controversial tar sands processing plant are linked to human health impacts.

The report, which was published yesterday, examined the emissions from Baytex Energy’s Peace River plant, which has been the subject of a number of health complaints from local residents over the last few years. The situation has been so bad that seven families have been forced to leave.

The residents have complained that the plant—which essentially boils bitumen—has been making them sick, and they have been suffering symptoms such as severe headaches, dizziness, sinus problems, vomiting, muscle spasms and fatigue, amongst others.

Now the report by the Albertan Energy Regulator (AER) has called on the odors to be stopped. The report concludes: “odors caused by heavy oil operations in the Peace River area need to be eliminated to the extent possible as they have the potential to cause some of the health symptoms of area residents.”

The Panel also recommended “that further study be conducted to examine linkages between odors and emissions and health effects.”

Meanwhile the report gives the company four months to capture all the odors.

It has been welcomed by local landowners who have been experiencing health problems. “This validates what we have been saying for years—that the tank-top emissions are causing health problems,” said one such landowner Brian Labrecque. “It’s been a very long road and we are relieved the AER is showing some teeth and holding industry accountable.”

He is backed up by environmental groups. Mike Hudema of Greenpeace said the panel’s report “reaffirms what the local residents have known for years—that the emissions were part of the reasons the families were getting sick.”

However Baytex’s spokesman Andrew Loosley belligerently replied that studies undertaken by the company “tell us the air is safe,” although the company is moving to install technology that captures the odors.

Environmental groups are also now calling for technologies to ensure that odors are captured to be applied across the wider tar sands region. Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute told the Globe and Mail, “The same technological solution can be used to prevent odors, health risks and greenhouse-gas emissions throughout the province.”

Meanwhile legal action against the plant trying to force a temporary injunction also continues. A judgement is expected sometime this month.

Source: Reader Supported News

Recommended: in the oil sands:alberta-consequences (Noor Foundation)
                              in the oil sands canada (multimedia) Jon Lowenstein (Noor Foundation)

Stop The Keystone XL pipeline


Right now, President Obama is being forced to decide whether to approvea monstrous pipeline that would transport up to 830,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada across the US. Insiders say he wants to save our planet, but industry is lobbying with unprecedented force. Public opposition delayed this project once, and now the State Department, responsible for the US’s relationship with the world, is in the middle of an open comment process. If we flood it with a million strong global outcry, we can give Obama the support he needs to kill this deadly plan for good. We only have days left to send our messages — send a message on the right and Avaaz will deliver them alongside the million comments being mobilized in the US alone.

Students to Obama: If You Won’t Lead on Climate Action, We Will


XL Dissent protest this weekend at White House could be largest youth-led civil disobedience action in a generation

Μore than a thousand students from over 200 colleges and universities are descending on Washington, D.C. this weekend to deliver a stern message to a president they are not yet convinced is listening to dire warnings about climate change, the destructive impacts of a completed Keystone XL pipeline, and the fossil fuel paradigm overall.

And just to be sure President Obama cannot easily ignore their demand that he prove himself serious about tackling global warming and ending the nation’s obsessive reliance on coal, oil, and gas – over 300 of those traveling to the nation’s capitol have vowed to put their bodies on the line Sunday, participating in what they say will be the largest student-led civil disobedience action at the White House in a generation.

In his efforts to combat climate change, Michael Greenberg, a 20-year-old sophomore at Columbia University, told Common Dreams he has “lobbied, fundraised, petitioned, written letters to the editor, and organized his peers.” But now, he says, he’s ready to go further. “What we face is a crisis,” said Greenberg, “which is why I will be getting arrested for the first time in my life this weekend.”

Like Greenberg, other student organizers for the weekend summit and protest – which they’re calling XL Dissent – told Common Dreams that this weekend’s action is neither the beginning nor the end of their involvement in the climate justice movement. For them, however, the specific moment is an important time for them (and others) to increase the pressure on Obama as he enters what appears to be the final stretch of his decision-making process on approving or rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Earlier this week, Obama told the nation’s governors that they could expect a final decision on the pipeline within “a couple of months.” The official public comment period on the State Department’s overall assessment of the project ends next week on Friday, March 7.

“Our message to President Obama is that if he is serious about acting on climate, he will block the Keystone XL Pipeline,” said Aly Johnson-Kurts, 20, of Smith College. If the president won’t stop it, she added, “people power will.”

The students also agree that their activism – both on their respective campuses and this weekend at the White House – goes beyond a singular focus on Keystone XL, saying their concerns go deeper than just one pipeline or one presidential decision.

“This protest is about so much more than just one pipeline,” said Greenberg. “For me XL Dissent is about young people standing together and engaging in a bold act of civil disobedience, and through this, demonstrating our commitment to making this world a more humane, peaceful, and inclusive place to live.”

And Matthew Goodrich from Bowdoin College in Maine told Common Dreams: “The protest shows how serious the youth of the nation are about holding President Obama accountable on his promise to not betray future generations – our generation – by dooming the planet to climate change.”

For Johnson-Kurts, the student-led protest is also about standing in solidarity with others in the U.S., Canada, and around the world who are fighting for environmental justice in the places they live. Citing First Nations, those living near refineries, ranchers and farmers along the proposed pipeline route, and all those fighting tar sands expansion in various frontline communities, she says XL Dissent is “about turning up the heat on Obama to live up to his promises to protect us from a future of environmental catastrophe, as these people are already experiencing.”

Though all the students that spoke with Common Dreams acknowledged that Keystone XL has been a galvanizing symbol of the climate movement over the last few years, they say the pipeline is not the sole focus of their own work on the issue of climate change. All three have been involved in the student-led divestment movement at their own schools, urging administrators and trustees to withdraw endowments investments from fossil fuel-related companies and industries.

“Rejecting the pipeline is an important step, but stopping Keystone on its own will not solve climate change,” acknowledged Greenberg.

And Goodrich added, “Obama needs to protect human lives, not oil profits. Climate change was not the change we voted for.”

As they made their way towards Washington on Friday, older members of the climate justice movement – more veteran organizers with groups like Sierra Club and – were cheering them on in anticipation of the weekend.

“All Americans deserve to live safe and healthy lives that aren’t shadowed by worsening superstorms, droughts, floods, and wildfires brought on by dirty fossil fuels,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune in a statement in which he offered the XL Dissent students and participants his organization’s full support.

It’s America’s youth and student-aged adults, declared Brune, “who have the greatest stake in the Keystone XL tar sands decision.”

Jamie Henn, a co-founder of, writing for Common Dreams on Friday, reflected: “I’ve had the chance to talk with some of the students involved in XL Dissent and the thing that continues to strike me is how level-headed and pragmatic they are. They’re risking arrest this weekend not because they’re wild-eyed radicals, but because they agree […] that power responds to a demand, and that getting that demand heard often requires working outside traditional channels.”

The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, continued Henn, is more than an environmental issue, but a test of character. “The young people taking part in XL Dissent are demonstrating theirs,” he wrote. “Now, it’s time for the President to show his.”

As for the students and their relationship to the only president they’ve known as young adults: It seems they are, in fact, reclaiming some of the “hope” they offered over to Obama, and putting it back in themselves.

“Our generation is going to be stuck with the reality of decisions made now about whether to invest in destruction or the future,” said Johnson-Kurts. “We are realizing we cannot sit idly by, or we will not have a future to fight for”.

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams
01 March 14
Source: Reader Supported News