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



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

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Threats, attacks on federal workers increase in 2012


A National Park ranger was killed in the line of duty in 2012, the first such incident since 2002.

Watchdog group tracks federal data to identify year-to-year trends

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Attacks and threats against federal workers on public lands increased in 2012, with violence against U.S. Park Police officers reaching a record level, according to figures compiled by federal agencies and analyzed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

According to the figures, reported incidents rose more than 40 percent in wildlife refuges and in areas patrolled by the U.S. Park Police and by more than 12 percent in national parks.

The year began with the shooting death of Mount Rainier National Park law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson on January 1. Anderson was only was the ninth ranger killed in the line of duty since the National Park Service was founded in 1916.  A park ranger was last killed in 2002, at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, while chasing drug traffickers. Continue reading

Environment: IG investigators still hounding Arctic scientist


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

Lawsuit seeks more transparency on Arctic offshore drilling

oil map

Are federal regulators prepared to manage an oil spill in the Arctic?


Oil spill containment and cleanup plans still sketchy

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With Shell Oil aiming for spring oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, a government watchdog group has filed a lawsuit to force the release of documents relating to the company’s ability to contain potential oil spills. Click here to read an EPA fact sheet on Arctic offshore drilling.

Also at issue are safeguards required to protect against such known hazards as sea ice, subsurface ice scour and blowouts, as well as specifications for well design and well integrity control, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The unreleased testing data could reveal whether there could be an Arctic repeat of the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico when Shell starts drilling in the Arctic, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The group filed a lawsuit this week to force the release of the information. 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

Environment: Watchdog group says testing of Shell’s Arctic drilling safety gear was inadequate

Polar bears on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, near the North Pole. with the USS Honolulu in the foreground.

Government report shows cursory testing with no detailed engineering data

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some observers are hoping for the best when it comes to Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling plans, because the company clearly is not prepared for the worst, at least when it comes to testing critical equipment needed to prevent massive blowouts like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

After dragging it’s feet for a while, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement finally released all the information it had on last summer’s testing of a well-head capping stack system.

All the information on that test was included on less than a single page of typed text.

“I was shocked,” said Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor who requested the testing report under the Freedom of Information Act. “I was expecting 50 or 70 pages … with pressure tests, detailed engineering info, graphs … it’s a critical piece of equipment in a blow-out,” said Steiner, an oil spill expert and board member of an environmental watchdog group. Continue reading

Environment: Lawsuit seeks Arctic drilling safety test data

A polar bear in the Arctic. Photo courtesy Dr. Kathy Crane, NOAA.

Group says feds missed deadline for responding to FOIA request

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While federal officials say they’re satisfied with Puget Sound tests of Shell’s proposed Arctic-ready capping stack system, a watchdog group says some critical safety information hasn’t been released to the public.

The unreleased testing data could reveal whether there could be an Arctic repeat of the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico when Shell starts drilling in the Arctic, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The group filed a lawsuit this week to force the release of the information.

Federal officials said in June that the safety equipment meets new standards set to guard against another distastrous spill. Following the announcement, retired University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner, a PEER board member described as an oil spill expert, requested the actual Shell cap-test data under the Freedom of Information Act. Continue reading

Watchdog group says border wall plans are flawed

Flooding a concern along the Rio Grande

Along the Rio Grande …

By Summit Voice

It appears that the U.S. has not learned from recent Eastern European history that walls and fences just don’t work when it comes to trying to keep people in or out of a country.

Pushed mostly by politicians with a xenophobic agenda and pandering to a xenophobic constituency, plans for a massive border wall along the Rio Grande continue, and now, it appears as though the new 14-mile section of wall could  block flood water from draining into the Rio Grande, bottling it up in towns and farm land and significantly worsening damage inflicted, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The three border wall sections will consist of concrete bollards spaced four inches apart and topped by as much as 15 feet of steel fencing. If the bollards become choked with storm debris, the structures will function as dams, deflecting water out of the river channel and perhaps even changing the channel of the River itself (and thus our border).  The wall sections are slated to be placed in the Rio Grande floodplain adjacent to the communities of Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos. Continue reading

Yellowstone slammed for cell tower plan

Yellowstone webcam, courtesy National Park Service.

Watchdog group claims park service didn’t follow its own rules in approving a new location

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Despite some internal objections, Yellowstone National Park will move ahead with plans to install a fifth cell phone tower to provide coverage in the developed Lake Village area.

The tower could be approved sometime in the next few weeks, pending objections by a watchdog group claiming the tower plans were not subject to required public scrutiny and may violate National Park Service policy and the park’s own wireless plan.

Yellowstone developed a wireless plan in response to a poorly conceived proposal to add cellular service in the Old Faithful area. The changes were aimed at boosting public involvement. Continue reading

Politics plagues wolf recovery in the Southwest

States not keen on sharing territory with top-tier predators

A Mexican wolf at a holding facility. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — If there were ever any doubts that politics is a huge factor in the management of some endangered species, the continuing back-and-forth between state and federal officials over recovery of the endangered Mexican wolf in the Southwest should put them to rest.

The exchange of emails and letters going back several years shows clearly that some state officials are resisting the recovery effort by challenging population targets and habitat designations, and, that in some cases, federal officials may be giving in, even though they are charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act and required to use the best available science to make their decisions. Continue reading


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