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Oceans: New study could help protect endangered whales from impacts of seismic airgun blasting

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Ocean conservation advocates say federal government must use new data on endangered North Atlantic right whales when it considers permits for fossil fuel exploration. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Conservation advocates call for expansion of protective zones and seasonal closures

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may be more at risk from oil exploration than previously thought.

New research from Cornell University suggests the rare marine mammals are present throughout the year at varying distances off the coast of Virginia, putting them at risk from the acoustic impacts generated by seismic airguns — used to probe the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits. Continue reading

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Environment: Arctic scientist resigns after battling his own federal agency over transparency and scientific ethics

 

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Too much oil, not enough science ….

Harassment of prominent researcher likely aimed at stifling scientists

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A scientist who was targeted by a politically driven investigation has retired from the federal agency that is supposed to regulate oil development in the Arctic after settling his whistleblower complaint against the U.S. Department of Interior.

Dr. Charles Monnett, a senior scientist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was hectored for several years after publishing observations about drowning polar bears. The witch hunt ended in October with the Department of Interior withdrawing its letter of reprimand and paying Monnett $100,000.

“It’s a relief to be able to speak,” Monnett said, expressing his belief that the investigation was intended squelch scientific evidence that would make it more difficult to issue oil and gas drilling permits in the sensitive Arctic environment. Continue reading

Agreement protects Gulf of Mexico marine mammals

Feds, oil companies agree to some limits on seismic airgun testing

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Marine mammals like coastal bottlenose dolphins will get some relief from seismic airgun blasting in the Gulf of Mexico. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Whales, dophins and other marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico will enjoy a little more peace and quiet under a new agreement that limits seismic airgun testing.

Under the deal, oil companies and the federal government will make some biologically important areas off-limits to testing. The agreement will also expand protection to additional at-risk species, and require the use of listening detection devices to better ensure surveys do not injure endangered sperm whales. Continue reading

Energy: Is offshore wind power finally coming?

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Will the U.S. finally start developing its promising offshore windpower potential?

Feds prepare to lease about 245,000 acres off  New England Coast

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nine companies are lined up to bid on the first-ever sale of leases for offshore wind power, with two big parcels about nine miles south of Rhode Island and Massachusetts on the auction block.

According to a report from the Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory, development of the 245,000-acre area could generate up to 3,400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 1 million homes and up significantly from previous estimates for the area.

While development is still a few years off, the projects could finally help the U.S. start catching up to countries like Holland, Germany and Denmark, which have been producing significant amounts of offshore wind energy for many years. The auction is scheduled for July 31. Information and documents on the projects are compiled on this website. Continue reading

Environment: IG investigators still hounding Arctic scientist

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A published article on polar bears has been an unending source of woes for a BOEM scientist. Photo courtesy USGS.

BOEM again rejects calls for renewed scrutiny of Charles Monnett

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Government investigators just don’t want to stop scrutinizing an Arctic scientist who reported on sightings of drowned polar bears a few years ago.

Since publishing a peer-reviewed observational note in 2006, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management scientists Dr. Charles Monnett has been hounded by indirect allegations of scientific and professional misconduct related to the article and to his handling of contracting duties with the agency. Continue reading

Environment: Probe of Arctic scientist ends inconclusively

A June 2012 image shows sea ice breaking up in the Beaufort Sea, targeted by energy companies for oil drilling.

Investigation ends with letter of reprimand for leaking emails

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —A Kafka-esque federal probe of a polar biologist ended inconclusively this week, as biologist Charles Monnett got a mild slap on the wrist for an alleged breach of policy that was unrelated to the focus of the 2.5-year investigation.

No charges will be brought against the Monnett regarding his high-profile research on polar bears, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, but according to the Alaska Dispatch, the federal government still maintains that Monnett and a co-researcher may have used incomplete and perhaps even false data in writing a report about polar bear drownings.

According to the Alaska Dispatch, the Inspector General report also suggested that Monnett “intended to manipulate data to meet a personal agenda, including influencing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.”

To this point, Monnett has received a letter of reprimand for allegedly improper disclosures back in 2007 and 2008 which helped reveal that Bush administration suppressed scientific information about oil drilling impacts.

Continue reading

Feds taking input on proposed offshore wind farm

Proposed facility off the coast of Maine could show feasibility of floating turbines

Offshore wind turbines near Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo courtesy Leonard G via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Offshore wind power is already a significant part of the energy portfolio in countries like Denmark, Holland and Germany, and the U.S., with extensive areas of coastline, has the potential to become a major producer of offshore wind energy.

Developing the resource isn’t without challenges, as some communities have objected to the visual impacts of wind turbines near shorelines, and there are also concerns over impacts to wildlife, primarily birds. Infrastructure is another issue, as the offshore facilities require transmission lines to bring the power to shore.

On the positive side, offshore turbines could be sited near coastal urban areas with dense populations, where the energy is needed the most. But for now, many of those questions are still hypothetical, as offshore windpower is still in its infancy in this country.

That may start to change, however, as the Department of Interior starts to scrutinize a proposed project that could demonstrate floating offshore wind technology on the Outer Continental Shelf  of the coast of Maine. Continue reading

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