Royal Dutch Shell barred from returning to drill for oil in Arctic without overhaul
Caveat: This is a short-term environmental win. Shell owns billions of dollars in oil drilling permits in the Arctic. All they need is to invest in safer rigs, ships, and other infrastructure to show that their operations will be safe. The Dept. of Interior, which governs (in part) oil drilling on US lands and waters, is not known for its consistent decision making.
In fact, considering Obama’s aggressive oil and gas drilling policies, I’d be surprised if Shell wasn’t back by 2016…
Still, a sweet sweet win for environmental groups that pressured the administration to rethink Arctic drilling.
(Above) Shell have been criticised after their Arctic oil drilling rig Kulluk ran aground off a small Alaskan island on New Year’s Eve. Photograph: Sara Francis/AP
Shell “screwed up” drilling for oil in Arctic waters and will not be allowed back without a comprehensive overhaul of its plans, the Obama administration said on Thursday.
A government review found the oil company was not prepared for the extreme conditions in the Arctic, which resulted in a series of blunders and accidents culminating in the New Year’s Eve grounding of its drill rig.
Shell announced a “pause” in Arctic drilling last month. But Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, told a reporters’ conference call that the company will not be allowed to return without producing a much more detailed plan, one tailored specifically to the harsh Arctic conditions.
“Shell will not be able to move forward into the Arctic to do any kind of exploration unless they have this integrated management plan put in place,” said Salazar, in one of his last acts before standing down as interior secretary. “It’s that plain and simple.”
The findings of the review could mean further costs and delays for Shell, which has spent years and $4.5bn securing permits to drill in Arctic waters.
But it did not satisfy some environmental groups which said the review demonstrated the government should never have allowed drilling in the first place.
Salazar and other officials said Shell had not been prepared to drill last year, when a season of blunders and accidents was capped with the New Year’s Eve grounding of one of its drilling rigs.
“Shell screwed up in 2012 and we are not going to let them screw up after their pause is removed,” Salazar said.
Rijkswaterstaat and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment took me and others on a tour of this and other adaptation-engineering projects last year. I wrote a report for a Republican Congressman in Florida who is concerned about sea level rise (interesting backstory on that one!). Anyway, behind closed doors, the Dutch weren’t convinced this sand-engine would work very well over the long-term, but conceded it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Also interesting about this - special barges are sent into the North Sea to dredge up this sand (and for other projects). The barges have bomb specialists on them because the North Sea sand contains unexploded bombs and shells from WWII. Gnarly, gnarly work.
Smart-Dikes and Sand Engines: The Netherlands’ Approach to Rising Sea Levels
On a freezing winter day along the south-central coast of Holland, two beachcombers, hunched against the wind, stroll along a crescent of sand extending more than half a mile into the North Sea. Nearby, a snowkiter skims over the 28 million-cubic-yard heap of dredged sediment spreading along the shore. If all goes as planned, the mound will eventually disappear, rearranged by ocean currents into a 12-mile-long buffer protecting the coastline for the next two decades.
This is the Sand Engine, one of the latest innovations from Dutch masters of flood control technology and designed, as the national water board Rijkswaterstaat says, so that “nature will take the sand to the right place for us.”
After having constructed the country’s vaunted system of sea gates and dikes, Dutch planners and engineers are now augmenting it with new technology enlisting nature to keep the water at bay. “Normally, there is a lot of erosion here,” says hydraulic engineer Mathijs van Ledden, sweeping an arm toward the snow-covered spit snaking around an elongated lagoon. Van Ledden is a flood risk reduction specialist with Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch engineering consultancy involved in creating the Sand Engine, currently 2.2 miles wide.
“This big reservoir of sand should re-nourish the rest of the coast in time,” he says, gesturing toward the skyline of The Hague, several miles away.
Earlier this summer, I was hired to write a report on adaptation in the Netherlands. I toured several adaptation projects, including this massive storm surge barrier located on a wide canal in the south west.
It’s called the Maeslantkering, and, at over 1200 feet wide, is one of the largest moving structures on earth. Basically, it’s comprised of two arms, one on each side of the canal. Each arm holds a very tall, curved gate. The gates close when a very big storm is forecast. The two curved gates are what literally holds back the North Sea. The project cost around $900 million in 1991 - trust me, that is a lot of money for a gate that does nothing 99.9% of its life!
Engineers think that a similar gate could be built to protect New York harbor from storm surges. Hurricane Sandy pushed a 14-foot surge that flooded many properties in NYC.
Here’s a video from the Wall Street Journal(!) showing how a gate like Maeslantkering would work in the US:
Dutch bike lane design. Inherent in this design is purpose, which is “improve safety.” Transportation design in the U.S. does not recognize, “improve” only safety. The system is rigged in favor of productivity. Move cars faster, work work work shop shop shop.
Great podcast, listening now. I helped Alex organize a conference back in 2010 called Toward a Just Metropolis. Great guy. Glad to see his career taking off.
AMSTERDAM: A JUST CITY OR JUST A NICE CITY?
Nice initiative by Polis, they started podcasting. The first edition covers a conversation between Polis’ Alex Schafran and two Dutch academic scholars: Jan Willem Duyvendak and Justus Uitermark. I’ve heard Uitermark speak on this topic a couple of times, and I completely agree with him. Amsterdam is crowded (with middle class cargo bike owners), and because of this, the city has become less tolerant towards the less affluent.
Squatters being evicted by riot police in Spuistraat.
Uitermark recognizes some alarming facts, describing them as the banality of injustice in the post-political city:
a lot of urban renewal going on
tenants are being paid to move out
squatting is no longer tolerated, but as of late 2010 forbidden by law.
vacant buildings are being filled with (gentrification-promoting and easily disposible) ‘anti-squatters’
liveability is perceived to be proportional to the share of middle class households (!)
hence, statistics see displacement as a contribution to liveability.
This perverse way of measuring the well-being of a city’s neighbourhoods and their inhabitants shows how justice gradually has had to make place for more questionable indicators such as diversity, creativity, liveability, mixing, etc.
So, whenever you come and visit Amsterdam, I suggest you look a bit beyond the cosy, authentic, diverse and tolerant face of the city.