The Beacon

Blog Tags: Climate Change

Offshore Drilling at Any Cost?

The latest accident on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig couldn't have come at a more significant time for the efforts to pass comprehensive climate change and energy legislation. With Senate plans to expand and even incentivize offshore drilling, this accident serves as a reminder of how costly offshore drilling truly is.

Despite advances in drilling technology and all of the precautions made, drilling is a high risk business and even the newest technology cannot prevent all spills. Fires, explosions and accidents are more common than they would like you to believe. New technology advances have pushed the envelope for drilling efforts. Expanding drilling activities into these “frontier” areas only increases the risk.

Take away for the moment the immediate danger to personnel on the rigs and look at the potential environmental and economic costs to coastal towns relying on fishing and tourism. Oceana's federal policy director, Beth Lowell discussed the dangers last night on NBC Nightly News:

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Gulf Coast Dodges a Bullet... for Now

Deepwater Horizon rig fire

Battling the fire on Deepwater Horizon. Photo: US Coast Guard

A sad and ironic post for the day after Earth Day – the Gulf of Mexico offshore oil rig that caught fire on Tuesday and sank yesterday is still a serious concern for  the Coast Guard, NOAA and potentially for dozens of endangered species.

The Coast Guard continues to search for the missing 11 crew members while cleanup efforts have begun. An oily sheen covers the water where the rig used to stand, probably related to the fire and onboard activity as the rig sank. While it is contained for now, BP Vice President David Rainey said "it certainly has the potential to be a major spill." BP PLC operates the license on which the rig was drilling.


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New Study: Ocean Acidification Occurring Rapidly

Some sobering news for the oceans this Earth Day. A new congressionally requested study by the National Research Council concludes that “the chemistry of the ocean is changing at an unprecedented rate and magnitude due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions” and that “the rate of change exceeds any known to have occurred for at least the past hundreds of thousands of years.”

The study finds that the oceans have absorbed about one-third of total carbon dioxide emissions over the past 200 years - which has made the oceans more acidic - and the acidity will continue to rise because CO2 emissions are rising too rapidly for the oceans to cope.

Ocean acidification, says the report, can disrupt important physiological processes in marine creatures, such as shell and skeleton building, internal fluid and tissue pH maintenance and carbon fixation in photosynthesis.

And while we don’t yet know the ultimate consequences for ecosystems, we do know that coral reefs, fisheries, protected species and other valuable natural resources are at risk.

The bottom line here is that ocean acidification will continue unless anthropogenic CO2 emissions are substantially curbed -- Take action today by telling your representative to support further research on ocean acidification.

Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb is a climate scientist at Oceana.


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Spills Happen!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

...And more often than people think. Just days after the President offered up more of our coasts to the oil industry, an oil pipeline operated by Chevron Pipe Line Co leaked at least 18,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana.
 
This is another example of how dangerous exposure to an oil spill can potentially be to coastal wildlife and habitat, in a national wildlife refuge no less. Spills happen at every stage of oil production. Whether it is from drilling, pipelines, tankers, or refineries; a spill can occur at every stage of the oil production process. Then when we burn the oil, it contributes to climate change.

Big Oil would have us believe that spills are a thing of the past thanks to modern technology. Unfortunately, the facts play out otherwise. Oil spills are not rare occurrence. Almost one million gallons of oil enter the oceans of North America every year through extraction activities alone.


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Where Are They Now?: Emily Goldstein

emily goldstein

This is the third in a series of posts about the 2009 Ocean Heroes finalists.

Today we’re catching up with 19-year-old Emily Goldstein, who was an ocean hero finalist because she convinced thousands of people and dozens of large companies to reduce their energy use, saving 16 million pounds of CO2.

She has also given dozens of talks to large groups about climate change and ocean pollution, and in 2008 she donated over 1,000 hours to make the ocean healthier. Emily is planning an ocean awareness day in Louisville, KY, when she’ll set sail on the Ohio River on a boat of recycled bottles.

Emily is a rock star; I’m not sure when she sleeps. Here she is:

“I'm a freshman at the University of Louisville. I'm getting a dual biology/ecology degree, and then I hope to get my PhD in wildlife conservation.  It's my dream to work in the field doing research on how to save marine wildlife.

I have been a busy little environmentalist this year. I have been trying to get someone to fund my ocean awareness day, but I guess the economy has made it hard for everyone to raise money.  I haven't given up on it, though, and I will make it happen eventually. 


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Obama's Early April Fool's Joke?

Very funny, Mr. President, but tomorrow is April Fool’s, not today. We can’t imagine that you’d go back on your promise to keep the moratorium on offshore drilling.

President Obama announced today that he will open much of the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to offshore drilling. This includes areas that were previously protected and fragile Arctic ecosystems – places where it’s unnecessary and destructive to drill, but it seems that the President must know that.

I say that because I remember the speech Obama gave during the 2008 campaign in Florida. He was attacking Senator McCain’s proposal to expand offshore drilling, and he said, “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines but no short-term benefits since it would take at least ten years to get any oil… It will take a generation to reach full production…When I’m President I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country.”


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Oysters Feel the Burn of Ocean Acidification

oyster

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday, a few of us attended a staff briefing on Capitol Hill on ocean acidification and fisheries put on by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.

There were representatives from the fishing communities of the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico and Maine. They were requesting that additional resources be channeled towards ocean acidification research so that we can better understand how fisheries are and will be impacted by rising ocean acidity.

The Whisky Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Oregon has already experienced massive collapses in their oyster stocks due to rising ocean acidity, and they’ve been doing a lot of research on their own to monitor changes in pH. Their representatives called for a comprehensive system of measuring pH so that they and other hatcheries can adapt to changes and not be driven out of business by ocean acidification.   

This group of fishers also recognized that while it is important to figure out ways to adapt to the changes that are already happening, without a true cap on carbon dioxide and serious decreases in emissions, these fisheries will not have a future.

 [Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb is a marine scientist at Oceana.]


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The Scanner

Happy February Friday!

Things will be quiet around here next week as we head to Pennsylvania for Oceana's annual international all-staff meeting. Hopefully these links will tide you over until then:

This week in ocean news,

...Slow and steady wins the carbon footprint race. Danish shipping giant Maersk cut its cruising speed in half the last two years, which cut greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption as much as 30 percent. If global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

...After being removed from the endangered list in November, the brown pelican’s recovery has hit a speed bump. Hundreds of pelicans have been found dead from a mysterious ailment that could be caused by ocean pollution or runoff.

...Miriam presented this month’s Carnival of the Blue in singable couplets. 'Nuff said.

...In case you didn’t know, the Mariana Trench is really, really, really deep. And humans, by extension, are really small. Have a look at this scale illustration.

...New research shows that heat-resistant algae may buy some time for coral reefs threatened by climate change.

...New research on diseases found in dolphins could have implications for research on human diseases, including diabetes, epilepsy and certain viruses.


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The Scanner: Snowy Edition

As you’ve no doubt heard, Father Winter dealt the DC area a record-breaking series of blizzards this week, so it’s been quiet on the blog. While we were breaking our snow shovels (at least I did) and fighting cabin fever, the oceans were making news. Here's your weekly digest:

…A new study reports, unsurprisingly, that the world's first experimental marine protected area closed to fisheries has had immediate benefits for the endangered African penguin. The African penguin’s population has decreased by 90 percent during the 20th century because their primary food source, sardines, have shifted due to overfishing and warming oceans.

… After last month’s freeze in Florida, more than 4,000 cold-stunned sea turtles were rescued. 200 to 300 injured sea turtles are still receiving treatment.

…Both sides of the climate debate tried to use the East Coast's snowy winter as ammo. And while one frigid season does not a climate make, “there is evidence that such events will probably become more frequent as global temperatures rise.”

…SeaNotes reports on the “immortal jellyfish”, Turritopsis nutricula, which is able to perform transdifferentiation by reverting back from mature (medusa) to immature (polyp) life stages.

...Salt belongs in the oceans, not so much on roads. Discovery News points out that the 22 million tons of road salt used nationwide each year may help melt snow and ice, but it can also harm plants, aquatic life and groundwater. New techniques and chemicals are in development, but for now the salt assault continues.

 


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4 Key Reasons to Oppose Offshore Drilling

This week, Oceana's corporate partner Nautica invited us to Key West Race Week to spread the word and gather support for our opposition to Congressional efforts to open up Florida’s coasts to offshore drilling.

In the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, there’s a proposal that would open up currently protected areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.

Why is this proposal such a big deal? I’ll give you a few reasons…

1. Currents: the Florida and Loop currents in the Gulf spread vital nutrients to marine life off Florida’s west coast, so if the currents are exposed to oil, it could expose Florida’s beaches and marine habitats to oil contamination.

2. Habitats: Florida’s mangroves and corals provide habitat for over 40 bird species, over 500 fish species, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, sharks and commercially-important shellfish like spiny lobsters, oysters, clams and shrimp. These habitats are particularly vulnerable to oil.


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