Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Drilling the Arctic comes with a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill

Imagine an oil spill off the coast of San Diego. Now imagine the nearest port from which to launch an emergency response is in Seattle, more than a thousand miles away, and that San Diego is suddenly bereft of grocery stores, leaving most residents dependent on the ocean for sustenance. Then take the Southern California ocean in your mind’s eye, increase the biomass, encase it in ice, bathe in darkness for a few months, and sprinkle with polar bears. That’s what an oil spill in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea would look like.

Arctic sea ice.
NASA/Kathryn Hansen
Whether such a spill has a chance to happen is largely dependent on what the Interior Department does with a draft Environmental Impact Statement released this month by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The report examines Lease 193, a controversial sale that, in 2012, enabled Shell to drill the first exploratory wells in the Chukchi in decades. Since then, drilling has been held up by Shell’s own grave missteps and by a series of lawsuits, which prompted an appeals court this January to throw out the previous environmental impact statement because it cited an “arbitrary and capricious” amount of recoverable oil....
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Why are Hopi rangers impounding Navajo sheep?

Caroline Tohannie is an 84-year-old great-grandmother who raises sheep and weaves traditional Navajo textiles in northern Arizona. On Oct. 22, her sheep were confiscated. 
Tohannie has lived her entire life on Black Mesa, an arid, tawny chunk of land once veined with glittering coal and now studded with slag heaps and waste ponds. Both Hopi and Navajo claim it among their ancestral homelands; before Europeans showed up, the tribes’ relationship was “one largely of peaceful co-existence and intertribal cooperation,” writes historian and Navajo activist John Redhouse. The Hopi lived in agricultural villages atop the mesa, while the more transient Navajo grazed their livestock below.
When the U.S. government forced Navajo into internment in the 1860s, those who managed to escape fled to what’s now Hopi land at Black Mesa. Later, encroachment from white settlers forced more Navajo onto the Hopi reservation, and what eventually became an ongoing, century-long land dispute was birthed. It culminated in the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act, which drew an arbitrary line down the center of Black Mesa, splitting it between the two tribes. Navajos living on Hopi land were forced to relocate, as were Hopi living on Navajo land. 
Ultimately, more than 12,000 Navajos were forced from their homes, compared to just 100 or so Hopis. It was the largest forced relocation since the 1880s. 
But some Navajo families refused to leave....
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A bright spot for climate activists in an otherwise dismal election.

Matt Isenhower was sick of sitting in traffic. As the 34-year-old Navy veteran from Redmond, Washington, van-pooled 80 minutes to and from his job at Amazon in Seattle each day, he had plenty of time to lament the state Senate’s refusal to invest in mass transit. Roughly 58 percent of Washington’s carbon emissions come from the tailpipes of cars, trucks and other vehicles, and the Republican-controlled Senate had also stymied Gov. Jay Inslee’s attempts to forge a bipartisan agreement to limit greenhouse gasses.
Hoping to end the gridlock, Isenhower decided to run for state Senate. With his freshly shaven good looks, military background and Harvard MBA, Democrats thought Isenhower had a good shot at unseating Republican Andy Hill. And in this election year, that was a big deal: If liberals could take just two seats in Washington’s Senate, Inslee — a clean-energy champion and one of America’s greenest governors — would have a pro-environment majority in both chambers. There’s no doubt what he could do with that kind of opportunity: Next year, Inslee hopes to release a sweeping plan that could make Washington the second state in the nation (after California) to slash carbon emissions across the economy by putting a price on them....

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Virus implicated in sea star wasting disease

Last fall, after millions of West Coast starfish were found dead and dying, a team of 25 microbiologists, epidemiologists, marine biologists and other scientists from around the country set out to determine what was killing them. Now they have an answer — and even more questions. 
Here’s what they know: The culprit responsible for one of the most deadly marine diseases ever recorded is a type of densovirus, a microbe that usually attacks crickets and other insects. While scientists had never associated densovirus with marine invertebrates before, it’s been in the ocean for at least 72 years: The researchers found traces of the virus in ethanol-preserved starfish specimens from the 1940s and in healthy sea urchins alive today in Hawaii. 
But here’s what they don’t yet know: If the virus has been around for so long, why did it go from benign microbe to purveyor of an epidemic that, since June 2013, has caused up to 95 percent of local sea star populations from Baja California to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula to dissolve into puddles of goo, altering the makeup of intertidal ecosystems for years to come? 
... Read the rest here

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