Not only is the Arctic a poor place to drill for local environmental reasons, the truth of the matter is that if we merely burn all our “proven” reserves as of RIGHT NOW, we condemn the entire planet to mass extinction.
Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math
By Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone
July 19, 2012 9:35 AM ET
Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees.
How good are these numbers? No one is insisting that they’re exact, but few dispute that they’re generally right. The 565-gigaton figure was derived from one of the most sophisticated computer-simulation models that have been built by climate scientists around the world over the past few decades. And the number is being further confirmed by the latest climate-simulation models currently being finalized in advance of the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Looking at them as they come in, they hardly differ at all,” says Tom Wigley, an Australian climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “There’s maybe 40 models in the data set now, compared with 20 before. But so far the numbers are pretty much the same. We’re just fine-tuning things. I don’t think much has changed over the last decade.” William Collins, a senior climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agrees. “I think the results of this round of simulations will be quite similar,” he says. “We’re not getting any free lunch from additional understanding of the climate system.”
The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons
This number is the scariest of all – one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.
Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That’s the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.
We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.
Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.
If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.
Shell abandons Alaska offshore drilling efforts until next year
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
September 17, 2012, 12:53 a.m.
Shell Alaska said Monday it has abandoned its efforts to drill into hydrocarbon deposits in the offshore Arctic after the latest in a series of glitches on the company’s troubled oil containment barge resulted in damage to the high-tech dome designed to contain oil in the event of an underwater spill.
The latest setback involves the oil containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, which has been delayed in Bellingham, Wash., undergoing a trouble-plagued retrofit overseen by Superior Marine Technical Services, a Shell contractor.
The vessel has been unable for weeks to win U.S. Coast Guard certification, following problems with some onboard safety systems, along with trouble fixing good stowage for the ship’s anchor chocks and the boom designed to flare gas in the event of a spill. Coast Guard officials documented four minor illegal fluid discharges from the vessel while it was moored in Bellingham.
Federal authorities have not allowed Shell to plumb into hydrocarbon deposits until the barge is on site in the Arctic, but the multimillion-dollar upgrade has been delayed with one problem after another while attempting to win certification from the Coast Guard.
“However, during a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged,” she said.
“We will begin as many wells … as time remaining in this season allows,” Op de Weegh said. “The top portion of the wells drilled in the days and weeks ahead will be safely capped this year, in accordance with regulatory requirements.”
Shell had commenced drilling an initial well in the Chukchi Sea earlier this month, but was forced to shut down the operation and move away when a large ice floe began approaching.
In the Beaufort Sea, Shell is awaiting the conclusion of the fall Inupiat Eskimo whaling season, which could end as early as this week, before launching drilling operations there.
Shell boss defends Alaska project as ice halts drilling
Terry Macalister, energy editor, The Guardian
Sunday 16 September 2012 12.51 EDT
Speaking after a huge ice floe forced drilling 70 miles off the north-west coast of Alaska to be temporarily halted, Peter Slaiby, vice-president of Shell Alaska, insisted that the company had learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Environmentalists say a spill similar to Deepwater Horizon would be catastrophic in a pristine environment badly affected by climate change and home to threatened mammals such as polar bears, bowhead whales and walrus.
Asked if another major spill would destroy the company’s reputation, Slaiby said: “I feel there is a helluva responsibility on my head, but we have clear accountability models. I have the ability to do things in the right way and I have the backing of the most senior leaders in Shell to do things the right way.”
Slaiby, said the company fully understands the impact of carbon on climate change but said oil and gas are still needed to meet growing global energy demand in the near term. “The US Geological Survey says that about 25% of the world’s remaining hydrocarbon reserves are here [the Arctic]. And 25% of those are here in Alaska. Oil and gas are part of the mix, a big part of the energy puzzle, and we have to ensure local communities benefit economically.”
BP shares slide on fears over Deepwater negligence claim
Terry Macalister, energy editor, The Guardian
Wednesday 5 September 2012 13.36 EDT
“The behaviour, words and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall. Yet they were condoned in a corporation engaged in an activity (deep water drilling) that no less a witness than Tony Hayward (former BP chief executive) himself described as comparable to exploring outer space,” said the DoJ.
There had been earlier speculation that BP was in out-of-court talks with the DoJ about a wider settlement of criminal and civil charges but the latest department filing suggest no such deal is likely before new court proceedings start early next year.
Privately the company is believed to be shaken by some of the aggressive language used by the department which comes in the middle of a volatile presidential election campaign.
“BP died when it failed to cap the Macondo spill in the first few days. The CEO did a good job of saving BP from forced liquidation, but we do not believe he can revert to its pre-Macondo strategy,” he (Stuart Joyner, energy analyst at Investec Securities in London) added.
The increased anxiety over its position in the US, where it still has an enormous business, comes at a time when it is also struggling to find agreement with its Russian partners inside TNK-BP to dispose of its 50% shareholding there. That money might be needed to help pay any final bill for the Deepwater Horizon “blowout” in which 11 oil workers lost their lives and miles of beach front were damaged by the accompanying oil spill.
BP selling oil fields in Gulf of Mexico ahead of Deepwater Horizon fines
Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
Monday 10 September 2012 11.37 EDT
BP has agreed to sell some of its Gulf of Mexico oil fields for $5.6bn as it builds up cash reserves ahead of potentially huge fines for 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The British oil giant is selling its interests in older smaller fields in the gulf to Plains Exploration & Production of Houston. BP will remain a major operator in the area.
“While these assets no longer fit our business strategy, the Gulf of Mexico remains a key part of BP’s global exploration and production portfolio, and we intend to continue investing at least $4bn there annually over the next decade,” chief executive Bob Dudley said in a statement.
Analysts calculate that BP faces a fine of up to $20bn under the clean water act for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The blowout killed 11 workers and pumped about 4.9m barrels of oil into the Gulf.
Last week the US department of justice launched a withering attack on BP over its handling of the disaster. In court papers government lawyers said BP had made “plainly misleading representations” in its settlement proposals.
“The behaviour, words and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall,” wrote government lawyers.
The sale brings the value of BP’s disposals since the 2010 spill to more than $32bn. BP is also looking to sell its Texas City refinery – the site of fatal explosion in 2005 that left 15 dead and 170 injured.
The staggering decline of sea ice at the frontline of climate change
John Vidal, The Guardian
Friday 14 September 2012 11.30 EDT
Cambridge University Sea ice researcher Nick Toberg, who has analysed underwater ice thickness data collected by British nuclear submarine HMS Tireless in 2004 and 2007, said: “This is staggering. It’s disturbing, scary that we have physically changed the face of the planet. We have about 4m sq km of sea ice. If that goes in the summer months that’s about the same as adding 20 years of CO2 at current [human-caused] rates into the atmosphere. That’s how vital the arctic sea ice is.
“In the 1970s we had 8m sq km of sea ice. That has been halved. We need it in the summer. It has never decreased like this before”.
All over the Arctic the effects of accelerating ice loss and a warming atmosphere are being seen. The ecology is changing rapidly as trees and plants move north, new beetles devastate whole forests in Canada, Siberia and Alaska, and snowfall increases. Inuit and other communities report more avalanches, the erosion of sea cliffs and melting of the permafrost affecting roads and buildings. Whole coastal communities may have to be moved to avoid sea erosion.
With the ice loss has come a rush by industry for Arctic resources. Oil, gas, mining and shipping companies are all expanding operations into areas that until only 20 years ago would have been physically impossible.
Other new research suggests that the loss of ice could be could be affecting the path and speed of the jet streams, possibly explaining why extreme weather in the northern hemisphere is lasting longer.
“The ice is weak so it opens up water and allows more sunlight in which warms the water more which makes the ice break up more – so it accelerates the melt. There is hardly any old, multi-year ice left, so first year ice is now dominant. We are seeing less and less old thick ice,” says Toberg.
What is suspected is that the formation of the sea ice produces dense salt water which sinks, helping drive the deep ocean currents. Without the summer sea ice, many scientists fear this balance could be upset, potentially causing major climatic changes.
“The Arctic ice cover is a lid on the planet that regulates the temperature. By taking it off you are warming it. Temperatures [everywhere] depend on it,” says Toberg.
“This is a defining moment in human history,” said Kumi Naidoo, director of Greenpeace International in Amsterdam. “In just over 30 years we have altered the way our planet looks from space and soon the north pole may be completely ice-free in summer.
“Fossil fuel companies are still making profits despite the fact that climate change is so clearly upon us. Our politicians are putting corporate interests above scientific warnings and failing in their duties to the public”.
Climate change: all that is solid melts into water
Sunday 16 September 2012
It is the ice cap that keeps the Arctic cold. Sunlight that hits white ice bounces back into space. Dark ocean absorbs light, and therefore warmth, making the next winter’s ice pack thinner, and less enduring. The difference between the torrid tropics and the icy Arctic governs weather patterns in the northern hemisphere. The frozen ocean and permafrost at the perimeter prevents ground methane from escaping into the atmosphere and thereby accelerating global warming. The polar seas drive the marine ecosystem and fuel the north Atlantic fish stocks. So the consequences of ice loss could be considerable, although nobody with political authority seems so far to have sufficiently considered them.
Bad news from the far north has just been matched by a bleak warning from the tropics. German, US and Australian scientists report in Nature Climate Change on Monday that the double menace of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and rising ocean acidity could spell the end for most of the world’s coral reefs. These extraordinary and beautiful structures flourish at the limits of their tolerance. They like it hot, but not too hot. They tend to “bleach” and even die as temperatures rise: during 1998, 16% of all living corals perished in one exceptional tropic summer. Coral reefs deliver coastal protection, tourism and fishing for millions: the reefs are home, habitat and hunting territory for about a quarter of all marine species. The researchers used 19 different climate models to predict the effects of a 2C increase in global average temperatures, and found that by 2030 around 70% of the reefs would suffer what they politely call “long-term degradation”.
Thoughts on climate crisis speed – Polar ice "retreated faster than anyone expected, record smashed to smithereens"
By Gaius Publius, Americablog
9/16/2012 09:55:00 AM
If you’re hearing a theme, it’s that things are happening faster than anyone anticipated. That’s my main point. All of our models are wrong in the same direction – the bad one.
Climate predictions are consistently wrong to the slow side
Nearly all recent predictions of global warming speed have been wrong to the slow side. The crisis is proceeding faster than expectations, and that should scare the whole of humanity.
If I’m right (and everyone playing this game has been wrong to the slow side), mark your calendars. Sometime in the next 10 years or so, we’ll know if we’ve pulled back from the brink or leaped over it.
By that I mean: If I’m right and we reach 1½°C by 2025 – the U.S. has just 35 years to pack its bags and move to Canada, a country that will still be able to grow things and maintain a national electrical grid.
Ready for the near-term geopolitical question of the century? What are the odds the Canadian government will let us all in? (Me, I place that at zero, but that’s just a guess. Some people think we’re universally loved.)