Shell shuts down Arctic drilling program

Regulatory hurdles cited as part of the reason for decision


Shell Oil is giving up on drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell Oil's Arctic drill rig, Kulluk, stranded near Kodiak Island, Alaska

One of Shell’s Arctic mishaps came in 2012, when a drilling rig escaped its tow ships and ran aground. Photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

By Bob Berwyn

Shell Oil’s hotly contested Arctic oil-drilling operation will shut down for the foreseeable future, the multinational fossil fuel company announced today, drawing sighs of relief from environmental advocates who had described the exploration efforts in apocalyptic terms.

The company’s efforts have been stop-and-go for a long time. In 2013, for example, Shell announced a temporary pause in the program after a string of incidents, including failed tests of oil spill containment gear, runaway ships and notices for violations of environmental regulations. Continue reading

Lawsuit challenges secretive surge in US oil exports


Increasing U.S. oil exports seen as environmental threat by conservation groups.

Conservation groups say recent increases may be illegal

Staff Report

Conservation activists want to know why U.S. oil exports have been increasing despite a Congressional ban. According to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and ForestEthics, exports increased from 44,000 barrels per day in 2009 to 351,000 barrels per day in 2014.

The lawsuit challenges the Bureau of Industry and Security, an agency within the Department of Commerce, for withholding documents related to its oil-export approval process. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Continue reading

Forests and CO2 — It’s complicated!

One of the few lodgepole seedlings to survive the industrial clearcutting on the north shore of the Frisco Peninsula.

Climate models may be overestimating the carbon-capturing capacity of forests. @bberwyn photo.

Loss of nitrogen a key factor in forest equation

Staff Report

Forests may grow faster as atmospheric CO2 increases, but that doesn’t mean they’ll absorb more of the heat-trapping gas. Instead, a shortage of nitrogen means plants won’t be able to fix as much carbon as projected by some climate models.

“Forests take up carbon from the atmosphere, but in order for the plants to fix the carbon, it requires a certain amount of nitrogen,” said researchers Prasanth  who took a close look at the chemistry of secondary forests that are regrowing after deforestation, wood harvest and fires.

“If that ratio of carbon to nitrogen isn’t right, even if you add many times more carbon than it gets currently, the forests cannot absorb the extra carbon,” Meiyappan said. Continue reading

Study says changes in air traffic patterns could cut fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions


Airlines could save money and cut emissions by adjusting the rhythm of transatlantic flights. @bberwyn photo.

Changing flight intervals could save $10 million per year

By Bob Berwyn

Tweaking flight paths across the Atlantic could yield huge savings in fuel costs and help cut airline greenhouse gas emissions.

“If the lateral separation between the aircraft can be reduced, they can be spaced closer and remain more in line with their optimum flight paths. Overall, this would produce fuel economy as most aircraft save fuel at higher cruise altitudes,” said Antonio Trani, director of Virginia Tech’s Air Transportation Systems Laboratory and a professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Trani and fellow researchers reached their conclusions after studying flight information and fuel consumption for air traffic in the North Atlantic oceanic airspace. The research is part of the Future Air Navigation System started in the 1990s that focused on communication between aircraft and air traffic control services, conducted for the Federal Aviation Agency. Continue reading

Pacific islands face extreme sea level changes

Study tracks El Niño shifts


How will climate change affect Pacific atolls? Photo via NASA.

Staff Report

Climate change will likely subject many low-lying Pacific island nations to more extreme fluctuations in sea level from year to year, in synch with more intense El Niño cycles. Some years, high sea level will lead to bigger floods, while in other years, big drops in sea level will leave coral reefs exposed, according to researchers based in Hawaii and Australia. Continue reading

Global warming consensus extends beyond climate scientists


A new survey shows most scientists in all fields are convinced that human-caused climate change is real.

‘When it comes to climate change, scientists are people, too …’

Staff Report

The consensus on the reality of climate change extends beyond the field of climate science to other disciplines, according to a new study out of Purdue University, where researchers surveyed 700 scientists.

The results show that more than 90 percent believe that average global temperatures are higher than pre-1800s levels and that human activity has significantly contributed to the rise. Continue reading

Climate: Sea level rise threatens Pacific birds


Black-footed albatross with chick, nesting black-footed albatrosses are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise and sudden flooding on low-lying islands. Location: Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy Wieteke Holthuijzen.USGS.

Nesting areas on low-lying islands vulnerable to flooding

Staff Report

Shy seabirds that nest mostly on low-lying islands are particularly vulnerable to the threat of sea level rise, USGS researchers said after studying Laysan albatrosses, black-footed albatrosses and Bonin petrels in the Pacific.

“Our study illustrates that sea-level rise threats will affect low-lying Pacific Islands earlier than previously expected,” said seabird ecologist Karen Courtot of the U.S. Geological Survey. “Restoring seabird colonies at higher elevations provides alternatives for species most vulnerable to overwash events before nests are perpetually flooded.” Continue reading


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