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Dispelling Myths About Offshore Energy

March 23, 2018

Climate Change Weekly #281

A new paper by physicist John Droz, founder of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions, puts the lie to ten myths environmental activists have promoted over the decades to prevent offshore oil and gas development.

President Donald Trump reversed a proposal of the Barack Obama administration to remove federal waters in the Atlantic Ocean from potential seismic testing and oil and gas leasing. On January 4, 2018, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced a revised National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Leasing Program, proposing 47 lease sales in 25 planning areas, including nine in the Atlantic Region.

Before any oil and gas exploration or production can commence, the government, taxpayers, and oil and gas companies must have a better understanding of how much oil and gas might be available and what it would cost to develop it. This requires a comprehensive geological seismic survey of the Atlantic OCS, which has not been done in almost 40 years. Environmentalists claim seismic surveying will result in serious ecological damage, including harm to whales and other marine life, yet the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency charged with, among other things, protecting marine species, has concluded seismic surveying poses no significant threat to marine life. In 2014, during the Obama administration, NMFS stated, “To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death, or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to air-gun pulses, even in the case of large air-gun arrays.”

Droz notes a 2014 report from the chief environmental officer of DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management came to the same conclusion. More recently, in 2017, The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory actually conducted a seismic survey off the coast of North Carolina to map plate tectonics, using the same type of ships and equipment oil and gas mapping would require. Environmentalists did not protest this seismic survey, even though it covered a larger area than any testing for oil and gas off the coast of North Carolina would and it sent signals deeper into the ocean bed. A study by the National Science Foundation concluded the survey caused no consequential harm to the ocean’s wildlife or the ecosystem.

Two related arguments environmentalists raise against OCS production are it will necessarily produce oil spills that will damage oceans and beaches and, as a result, harm tourism. Droz disposes of these claims quickly and definitively.  Despite a few high-profile spills, including most recently the Deepwater Horizon, offshore oil and gas production is actually extremely safe, with spills being the rare exception, not the rule, Droz notes. There are hundreds of producing OCS lease areas containing thousands of operating wells, many of which have been operating safely for decades. As Droz writes, “The number of oil spills from all sources and the volumes of oil involved have fallen considerably decade by decade in the past 30 years, in spite of the 40 million barrels per day increase in world oil output and consumption that occurred over the same time.”

The huge costs in terms of lost revenue, oil reserves, stock value, bad public relations, and fines and civil and criminal penalties attached to spills ensure most operators keep mishaps to a minimum. In addition, improved procedures and technologies, plus new rules implemented by both the Obama administration and the Trump administration since the Deepwater Horizon blowout, make OCS production safer than ever before.

Oil spills are exceedingly rare, and most OCS platforms are well beyond the sight of shore, making OCS production no threat to tourism industries. With most drilling taking place more than 40 miles from the coast, distance and prevailing ocean currents would prevent oil from almost any spill from reaching shore. In addition, on those rare occasions when spills have occurred in the past and oil reached beaches, none of the resulting harms were permanent. Tourism and local fishing industries recovered quickly after such spills, and the jobs created and revenues generated in the long term from oil and gas production far exceed the temporary loss in revenue from tourism and fishing from the rare spill.

Droz also exposes the falsity of environmentalists’ claims the world doesn’t need oil and gas because transportation and electric power systems can be operated using only renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Droz points out renewable energy sources can’t supply baseload power to maintain the electric grid nor to power the world’s motor vehicle fleet, which is why the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports “renewables together currently provide about 5% of our country’s Total Primary Energy Requirements (TPER). Wind and solar alone, provide less than 3% of the U.S. TPER, and less than 1% of global TPER.” Both EIA and the International Energy Agency predict fossil fuels will still make up more than 80 percent of the world’s primary energy base in 2050.

— H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCE: Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions


IN THIS ISSUE …

Russia interferes with U.S. energy marketsPolar bears thrivingClimate models still get aerosol effects wrong


RUSSIA INTERFERES WITH U.S. ENERGY MARKETS

The Majority Staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology issued a new report detailing attempts by the Russian government to disrupt U.S. energy markets, confirming Moscow used U.S. environmental groups to press its interests. The report found “the Kremlin manipulated various groups in an attempt to carry out its geopolitical agenda, particularly with respect to domestic energy policy.”

The report says the growth in U.S. energy production, primarily due to fracking, and improved delivery infrastructure, including expanded pipelines and the construction of natural gas export terminals, threaten Russia’s geopolitical and economic influence. As a result, the Russian government embarked on a concerted campaign to disrupt and undermine U.S. energy markets by fomenting fears of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change and alleged dangers to air and water quality from new oil and gas production and transport infrastructure such as pipelines.

Reviewing thousands of documents from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the majority staff found 4,334 accounts across the three platforms were linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Saint Petersburg-based company established by the Russian government to use social and traditional media platforms deceptively to advance Russian propaganda and viewpoints on a variety of policy issues.  The report states IRA produced an estimated 9,097 posts and tweets regarding U.S. energy policy or current energy events across the three social media platforms between 2015 and 2017. The Russian government also funneled money through surrogates to U.S. environmental organizations to assist in their efforts to portray energy companies in a negative way and foment and publicize protests against various energy-related projects and policies, the report shows.

This report is not the first to expose attempts by the Russian government to disrupt U.S. energy markets. As the report states,

In January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report that contained ‘clear evidence that the Kremlin is financing and choreographing anti-fracking propaganda in the United States.’ The report found that the Russian-sponsored news agency RT (formerly Russian Today [sic]) ‘r[an] anti-fracking programing, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health,’ which ‘is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and the U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to [Russian energy companies’] profitability,’ such as state controlled Russian energy giant Gazprom.

In addition, the report says in 2014 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then Secretary General of NATO, told reporters, “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations—environmental organizations working against shale gas—to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.”

SOURCE: United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Majority Staff Report  


POLAR BEARS THRIVING

A new study from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) finds polar bears are thriving, with the population growing or stable despite summer sea ice having dropped significantly after 2006.

Based largely on American biologist Steven Amstrup’s assertion polar bear populations would decline if summer sea ice fell sharply, many scientists were surprised when polar bear counts showed the various subpopulations were stable or growing modestly despite summer sea ice levels falling by nearly 40 percent after 2016.  In a separate article, biologist Susan Crockford, author of GWPF’s study, notes ringed and bearded seals (the primary prey of polar bears) north of the Bering Strait thrived in a longer summer open-water season, which improved their access to fish.

“More food for seals in summer means more fat seal pups for polar bears to eat the following spring. … [A]s long as polar bears have lots of baby seals to eat in spring, they get fat enough to survive even a longer-than-usual summer fast,” writes Crockford.

A 2007 study by Christine Hunter et al. said if summer sea ice levels dropped by as much as they did after 2006 “for eight out of ten years (or four out of five years),” which climate model projections suggested might occur as soon as 2050, 10 of 19 vulnerable polar bear populations would be extirpated, leaving fewer than 10,000 of the animals worldwide. Despite sea ice hitting the danger levels feared by Hunter’s team 44 years sooner than projected, just the opposite has occurred. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated there were approximately 24,500 polar bears in the world in 2005, before sea ice levels dropped by as much as 38 percent after 2006. In 2015, the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated the polar bear population at approximately 26,000, with a second survey estimating as many as 28,500 polar bears roam the Arctic. This is the largest population count since polar bears were first protected by international treaty in 1973.

In addition, Crockford notes there is no evidence polar bear weights have fallen significantly or the percentage of deaths from starvation has increased.

SOURCES: The Global Warming Policy Foundation; Ottawa Citizen


CLIMATE MODELS STILL GET AEROSOL EFFECTS WRONG

A new study by a team of researchers from Japanese universities, research institutes, and government agencies provides further evidence the vast majority of climate models overstate the atmospheric warming effect of greenhouse gas emissions. Aerosols are fine, solid particles or liquid droplets suspended in air. Natural aerosols include fog, dust, material exuded from forests, smoke from forest fires, and steam and matter expelled from geysers and volcanoes. Anthropogenic aerosols include haze, particulate matter, and smoke. Almost all climate models assume aerosols tend to cool the climate, both directly by diminishing the amount of incoming solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface and by contributing to cloud formation, thus offsetting some of the warming effect of greenhouse gas emissions.

The recent Nature Communications study adds to a growing body of literature indicating climate modelers get aerosol effects wrong. Using a model incorporating microphysical processes of cloud formation, including the influence of aerosols, referred to as a global cloud system resolving model (GCSRM), the team found other climate models routinely overestimate the aerosol affect and could even be getting the direction of the effect wrong: aerosols may, on balance, warm the climate. GCSRM simulations show both positive and negative effects on cloud formation, but overall the GCSRM shows climate models significantly overestimate the cooling effect of aerosols, which could have a warming effect for some locations and periods of time. If you reduce or even reverse the presumed temperature impact of aerosols, the most widely used models would suggest the earth should warm even more than they currently show.  This research on aerosols indicates climate models grossly overestimate the atmosphere’s sensitivity to additional greenhouse gas molecules.

SOURCES: Climate Etc.; Nature Communications

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org