An Audubon Magazine web review by Catherine Griffin of Shell Oil's designs on the Beaufort and Chuckchi Seas - the broad embayments of the Arctic Ocean along Alaska's northernmost shores - cites as a primary source a McClatchy Newspapers story by its national environmental correspondent Renee Schoof. If I'd run into Schoof's piece when it was fresh perhaps the tracker would have been looking lately for news of the upcoming open-water seismic survey season up there more closely.
Its focus is narrow and thus manageable: on the behavior of bowhead whales and other marine mammals when air gun bursts pound the water for hours on end. The broader context of a new economic, industrial, and wildlife management era is well-sketched. Plus, she called on the right sort of primary source, a program in bioacoustics at Cornell University. Other top-flight university researchers also appear in the story. Anybody can contact a Greenpeace or other enviro activist group that is eager to share its version. Their reps may even say pretty much the same things as do the professors publishing in refereed journals. But chances for nuance, and maybes and the true state of confusion over what will happen to whales with all that banging going on, comes from reaching out to academics. It thus has more impact in news, especially when policy makers pass the story among themselves.
The Cornell group, by the way, is interesting. It is associated with Cornell's Lab of Ornithology. Bird chirps are a long way from the moanings of whales, but one can imagine how one thing led to expertise in another. The Bioacoustics + whale work there has been in news mainly for the group's tracking of endangered Right Whales off the Atlantic. It's a savvy lot - even has an app so one can follow the whales on one's iPhone. We've tracked stories before that featured Cornell's research - earlier post (2009) ;
Opportunities for investigative reporting are surely rich in this run of news. The Gulf oil spill laid bare a yawning hole in oil industry preparation for deep water drilling. BP and other companies had never practiced emergency measures should their well heads and blowout preventers fail, miles under the waves. The feds, the cops on that beat, had never ordered them to do so. So BP and the suddenly attentive squads of federal engineers and scientists, chiefly from DOE led by its Nobelist boss Steve Chu, had to make it up as they went. It took three months to shut it down. The old Minerals Management Service was so disgraced for its coziness (sometimes literal, as in snuggling) with oil engineers and execs that it got reorganized and renamed. One wonders - what is the Interior Department's new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement doing to be sure drilling rigs don't go up on ice-choked Arctic Ocean continental shelves without doing other kinds of drills first? For one thing, to practice every step of swapping out, closing off, or otherwise choking runaway accidental gushers up there? And to have the necessary equipment at hand for fast deployment. Oil booms and dispersants aren't going to cut it in those unforgiving waters with their distinctive wildlife. Are the feds as good, now, as their speeches say?
Samples of Other Shell Oil and Arctic Exploration Stories:
- LA Times - Kim Murphy (July 4): Shell may be ready for the Arctic, but its oil spill barge isn't ; Well reported, close look at just one piece of equipment that'd be vital should a well go bad. Wait'll you read what oil company reps told the Coast Guard is their opinion on 100-year storms. (July 9) Arctic Drilling: Groups challenge Shell oil spill response plans; Which shows that the enviro groups do have a more pithy way than typical professor do when explaining the issues ;
- LA Times (editorial) Shell's Arctic Gamble ;
- KPCC (Pasadena Public Radio) Molly Peterson: Enviro groups sue federal government, not Shell, over Chukchi & Beaufort oil response plans ; In which one finds a telling passage, even if it is from activists bringing suit: "... plans that rely on unbelievable assumptions, include equipment that has never been tested in Arctic conditions, and ignore the very real possibility that a spill could continue through the winter...."
- AP - Becky Bohrer: Coalition of conservationists sue over Arctic oil spill plans ;
Plus, a related feature exploration of enviro regulation, energy, and northern climes:
- Yale environment360 - Ed Struzik: Oh Canada: The Government's Broad Assault on Environment ;
Seen some other notable Arctic energy-and-oil etc. related coverage that merits attention? Suggest Stories.
- Charlie Petit