Are We Prepared for Off-Shore Drilling in the Arctic? Because it’s coming.

Prirazlomnoye-rig-250A recent Yale Environment 360 article highlights some genuine concerns about our lack of preparedness for off-shore drilling in the Arctic. Russia, Canada, and the USA are making serious strides towards drilling in the Arctic but there are a number of concerns about whether countries and companies are ready to safely drill in the harsh environment of the Arctic. The article doesn’t touch much on the many issues that befell US attempts to conduct exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in 2012. The drilling program ran into numerous problems, including the grounding of one of their drilling rigs on Sitkalidak Island – part of Kodiak Island and near to the Alaska Native village of Old Harbor where we have conducted fisheries research. The Department of the Interior released a report that reviewed Shell’s 2012 Oil and Gas Exploration Program and it was not pretty.

“The company experienced major problems with its 2012 program, some of which have been well-publicized. Shell’s difficulties have raised serious questions regarding its ability to operate safely and responsibly in the challenging and unpredictable conditions offshore Alaska.”

“The review has confirmed that Shell entered the drilling season not fully prepared in terms of fabricating and testing certain critical systems and establishing the scope of its operational plans…Likewise additional problems encountered by Shell…also indicate serious deficiencies in Shell’s management of contractors, as well as its oversight and execution of operations in the extreme and unpredictable conditions offshore in Alaska.”

An oil spill in the Arctic could have devastating consequences for marine life, fisheries, and Alaska Native communities that reside in the area. It doesn’t sound like we are near prepared to do it safely.

Netflix Documentary Touts MPAs as the Marine Conservation Solution — What do you think?

Netflix released a trailer for a new marine conservation documentary called Mission Blue. I am excited to see it. Sylvia Earle seems like a unique woman with an impressive history. At the end of the trailer they reveal the ultimate mission of Mission Blue. “To protect the ocean in the same way that we now protect the land.” Earle says, “I wish for a global network of marine protected areas to save and restore the ocean.”

This mission brings up some questions:

(1) Will a land-based model of conservation fully work for the fluid environment of the sea? Can MPAs help conserve fish, marine mammal, and shark populations that move long distances and easily cross boundaries?

(2) The land model of conservation through protected areas has a troubled history of dispossession of Indigenous groups from their land, of disenfranchisement of locals from important livelihood activities, and of top-down implementation and management. How can we make sure that the ocean model doesn’t replicate those troubling patterns?

We’ll have to see if the documentary addresses any of these questions when it comes out August 15th.