Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling, Obama Cancels 2016 and 2017 Offshore Oil Leases

In July, the U.S. government gave its approval to Royal Dutch Shell to begin exploratory drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. In September, Shell abandoned its efforts for the “foreseeable future.”

The announcement came after weeks of exploration over the summer, where drilling down to 6,800 feet indicated that oil and gas findings were “not sufficient to warrant further exploration.”

Drilling in the Arctic region would have threatened a great deal of wildlife and people. The region is home to populations of whales, walruses, polar bears, seabirds and other wildlife, as well as local people and communities.

The original drilling site itself would have been risky, too. It was 70 miles from the shore of Alaska and 1,000 miles away from the nearest U.S. Coast Guard station. This, along with with the thick ice and rough sea conditions, would have made it very difficult to detect and contain an accident or oil spill.

Photo by Petr Litvintsev / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Petr Litvintsev / CC BY-ND 2.0

Moreover, Shell has had trouble drilling in the recent past, despite spending an estimated $7 billion on exploring the Arctic for seven years. Problems have included damaged vessels, malfunctioning safety equipment, on-board fires and, most noteworthy, the loss of control of its drilling rig in January 2013. That rig ended up grounding on a pristine island in the Gulf of Alaska, proving just how damaging drilling can be even without oil spills.

Director of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme Alexander Shestakov says:

“Shell’s experience illustrates that further investments in oil development in the Arctic are not worth the risk to Arctic life and livelihoods. We hope this will provide a reality check to other companies considering the unpredictable proposition of Arctic drilling, and that investors will transition their funds instead toward low-carbon solutions.”

Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0
Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0

In addition, the Obama Administration cancelled two potential Arctic offshore oil lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort sea that were also jeopardizing the region. These lease sales were originally scheduled for 2016 and 2017, under the current five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2012-2017. The decision to cancel came in late October and was based on poor market conditions and low industry interest. Fortunately, this decision will mitigate future threats to the region.

These actions represent big wins for environmental and conservation groups like Greenpeace in the battle against fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, they are big wins for the wildlife that resides in the Arctic, the local people and the environment in general.

Featured image by Petr Litvintsev / CC BY-ND 2.0

One Step Closer to Ending Great Barrier Reef Dumping

We are now one step closer to protecting one of the most magnificent and biodiverse places on Earth: the Great Barrier Reef.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee has voted to continue pressuring Australia to deliver on its promise to restore the reef, making it only a matter of months before we see a full ban on dumping there.

This feat was made possible because of the support of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. More than 500,000 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supporters from 177 countries called on world leaders to defend the reef.

UNESCO’s decision requires Australia to deliver effective and sustained protection of the Great Barrier Reef from reckless industrialization, pollution and other threats. To monitor, Australia must provide reports on its progress, with its first report due in 18 months.

WWF expects that a full ban on dumping in the reef’s World Heritage waters will become real in a few months. Director General of WWF International Marco Lambertini states:

“Australia has promised to prioritize the health of the reef over damaging activities like dumping dredge spoil. UNESCO will be watching to ensure that the condition of the reef improves in coming years, as will the 550,000 WWF campaign supporters and millions of people worldwide who are deeply concerned and want to see a stop to industrial destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.”

In the decision, the World Heritage Committee expressed continued concern about the decline of reef habitats and wildlife populations. The committee also warned of the reef’s poor overall outlook due to long-term threats of pollution and climate change, calling for necessary action to protect this beautiful ecosystem.

Photo by gjhamley / CC BY 2.0
Photo by gjhamley / CC BY 2.0

Featured image: Tchami / CC BY-SA 2.0

Extinct Eastern Cougar No Longer Needs U.S. Protection

The eastern cougar is being removed from the list of endangered species and added to the list of those extinct. After a four-year review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has confirmed the animal’s extinction.

Eastern cougars, which averaged six to eight feet long and 105 to 140 pounds, were a subspecies of North American cougars. They were once found all over the continent, from Canada to South Carolina, but with their recent extinction, they no longer need federal protections from the Endangered Species Act.

USFWS launched an extensive investigation into the status of eastern cougars in 2011, which included information from 21 states and Eastern Canadian provinces, as well as hundreds of sighting reports dating back to 1900. The agency found that today’s infrequent cougar sightings in the eastern U.S. were likely members of the species that wandered to Florida from the west or were released from captivity.

Puma Dinnertime
Image credit: Jon Nelson / CC BY 2.0

Eastern cougars were originally declared endangered in 1973, but the beginning of their demise dates back as far as the 1800s when European immigrants arrived and killed the predators to protect themselves and their livestock. The population decline is also linked to past destruction of forests, which drove the cougar’s main prey, the white-tailed deer, to near extinction.

Cougars in general – also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers – used to be the most widely distributed land mammal in the western hemisphere. But extermination campaigns diminished the population and reduced its range to approximately two-thirds of the original distribution. In the U.S., The only remaining breeding population of cougars east of the Mississippi river is the Florida panther.

Featured Image: Angell Williams / CC BY 2.0

Japan Plans to Resume Independent Antarctic Whaling Later in 2015

Japan says it will resume whaling in the Antarctic in the 2015 winter season, defying the the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which stated that Tokyo has not proven the mammals need to be killed for research.

In a report in June, the IWC’s scientific committee concluded that it could not determine whether lethal sampling was necessary for Japanese whale stock management and conservation.

Japanese officials said they will submit additional data to support their argument, but still plan to resume whaling in the Antarctic in winter. Tokyo proposed a revised plan to catch 333 minke whales each year between 2015 and 2027, which is around one-third its previous target.

The IWC made a similar indeterminate conclusion in April when Japan revised its Antarctic whaling plan in response to the international court of justice 2014 ruling that the hunts were not truly scientific. As a result of the ruling, Japan sent a non-lethal expedition to the Antarctic for the 2014 season.

Image credit: ravas51 / CC BY-SA 2.0
Image credit: ravas51 / CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1986, the IWC banned commercial whaling but Japan continued hunting the animals under a research exemption. The country’s government has spent large amounts of tax money to continue whale hunting operations. In recent years, however, Japan’s actual catch has decreased in part due to a drop in domestic demand for whale meat and protests by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.

Featured image: Dagur Brynjólfsson / CC BY-SA 2.0