(Felicity Barringer/New York Times, 6 March 2013) -- At a time when large dams are being taken down, not put up, the state of Alaska is proposing to construct one of the tallest and most expensive hydroelectric dams ever built in North America. The Alaska Energy Authority is planning to build a 735-foot, $5.2 billion structure on the Susitna River in a largely empty south-central part of the state, which is watered by runoff from the arc of the Alaska Range. The dam, designed to generate up to 600 megawatts of electricity, would create a new power supply for more than two-thirds of the state’s population. But in Alaska, where natural energy resources and wildlife are both foundations of the economy, the proposed dam presents twin conundrums. One is economic: which is better, creating a reliable source of hydroelectricity and weaning some of the state off natural gas, or building a spur off a proposed pipeline to bring gas from the North Slope to the populated region from Fairbanks to the Kenai Peninsula? Or both? The other is environmental: what serves the environment best, replacing natural gas-fired electricity with hydroelectricity, which is free of greenhouse gas emissions, or keeping the Susitna watershed untrammeled and avoiding the risks involved in changing the dynamics of a major salmon stream? ...
Posted 10 March 2013; 8:56:17 PM. Permalink
(Andreas Østhagen/The Arctic Institute, 19 December 2012) -- The prospect of offshore oil and gas activity in the waters around Greenland constitutes a highly contentious issue in the larger debate on Arctic petroleum development. Given Greenland’s special status as a part of the Danish Realm, with a high degree of self-governance and a majority Inuit population, oil and gas drilling there has engaged actors with a wide range of interests. Arctic oil and gas development is often generalised into a two-sided conflict between those who emphasise the protection of the environment and those who seek potential profits, with the interests of local communities variably used in favour of one or the other depending on the area of the region under question. Some of the dimensions that seem to determine much of the actual development are often lost in this dichotomy, to the dismay of those in favour of an informed debate. Taking into account that Greenland is just one of the many parts of the Arctic that is experiencing this development, with its own unique characteristics, this article sets out to shed light on the importance of internal political and commercial factors when discussing petroleum development around the island.
Posted 4 January 2013; 5:24:21 PM. Permalink
(Ayesha Rascoe/Reuters via Scientific American, 3 January 2013) -- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Opponents of Royal Dutch Shell's ambitious Arctic oil program have called on the Obama administration to put offshore drilling plans in the region on hold after one of the company's oil rigs broke away from tow boats in high seas and ran aground off Alaska. The Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society on Thursday said the accident involving Shell's Kulluk oil rig is new evidence that oil companies are not prepared to safely manage the extreme conditions of the Arctic. The 30-year-old Kulluk rig ran aground on New Year's Eve in what were described as "near hurricane" conditions while it was being towed south for the winter. "This string of mishaps by Shell makes it crystal clear that we are not ready to drill in the Arctic," Chuck Clusen, NRDC's director of Alaska projects, told reporters in a teleconference. The green groups said they plan to send a letter to the Department of the Interior demanding that it stop issuing permits in the Arctic and that it prevent drilling in the sensitive area until it is determined that the environment can be fully protected. Ocean conservation group Oceana also called on the department to stop oil drilling activities in the Arctic after the Kulluk's grounding. Shell has spent $4.5 billion since 2005 to develop the Arctic's vast oil reserves, but the company has faced intense opposition from environmentalists and native groups as well as regulatory and technical hurdles.
Posted 4 January 2013; 5:07:41 PM. Permalink
(PennEnergy, 8 May 2012) -- The black gold rush on the roof of the world accelerated on Saturday. Norway's Statoil ASA (NYSE ADR: STO) signed a massive deal with Russian behemoth Rosneft in a venture that may require more than $100 billion over the next few decades. Specifically, the company aims to help Rosneft develop untapped oil resources in the Arctic, as Moscow struggles to gain a competitive advantage given declining oil production in Siberia. It's the third recent oil partnership for Rosneft. ... In the wake of Russia's slumping reserves and production in Siberia, the Kremlin has been looking for ways to incentivize producers to help Rosneft increase production. Tax breaks have been one way, but companies also want a little bit of insurance when they work with Moscow. Just last month, Exxon and Rosneft agreed to begin finalizing their initial $3.2 billion Arctic deal that would require about $200 billion for joint projects in the next decade alone, and the development of 10 ice-proof platforms for the Kara Sea that would cost about $15 billion each.
Posted 9 May 2012; 12:03:08 PM. Permalink
(Matthew Smith/KNOM - Nome, 23 January 2012 ) -- The tanker Renda and the Coast Guard cutter Healy are 115 miles south-southwest of Nome after beginning their return journey through the ice two days ago. Ice conditions have been easier when compared to their initial trip north, but the ships are not yet halfway: they still have more than 300 miles of ice to go. Kathleen Cole, the Sea Ice Program Leader with the National Weather Service, says the ice has continued to expand in the days since the ships first traveled through it: the ice grew by 60 miles during their weeklong anchor in Nome, and could grow by another 60 to 90 miles over the next ten days. Guiding the Renda through the ice is an experienced Russian captain who says this kind of fuel delivery mission is no big deal in his home country.
Posted 26 January 2012; 6:24:36 PM. Permalink
(Mary Pemberton/Anchorage Daily News, 10 January 2012) -- Shifting ice in the Bering Sea is dramatically slowing a Russian tanker's mission to deliver fuel to the iced-in community of Nome. A Coast Guard spokesman said Monday that an icebreaker and a fuel tanker are encountering "some really dynamic ice" that is slowing the mission and sometimes forcing both vessels to come to a complete stop. But, "As long as we're making progress, we're going to Nome," said Anchorage Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley. A worst case scenario would be that the ice becomes too much for any progress. But Mosley doubts that would be the case since the Coast Guard cutter Healy has the ability to make it all the way to Nome. Jason Evans, chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., the company arranging for the fuel delivery by Russian tanker, had no qualms Monday. "I think we are getting to Nome," he said, adding he will be there for the arrival. Nome is in need of diesel and unleaded gasoline after a fall fuel delivery by barge was delayed by a storm that swept western Alaska. By the time the weather had improved, Nome was iced-in and a barge delivery was impossible. ... The Healy, an icebreaker designed to move through ice several feet thick, is leading the 370-foot Renda, a Russian tanker loaded with 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products. The plan was for the two ships to deliver fuel to Nome on Monday, but because of the icy conditions, that arrival date is off. Coast Guard officials are not saying when they expect the vessels to arrive, but it could be later this week. "The dynamics of things make it a pretty intense transit," Cmdr. Greg Tlapa, the executive officer of the Healy, told The Associated Press by satellite phone Monday afternoon as the icebreaker was about 111 miles south-southwest of Nome. ... The ships are in constant communication, with the Healy relaying over VHF radio any speed or propulsion changes and what they are seeing ahead. There's an active duty Coast Guardsman on the Healy who is fluent in Russian, Tlapa said. There's an Alaska marine pilot on board the Renda, and the vessel agent speaks English. "It's slow and steady, but we're making good progress," Tlapa said.
Posted 12 January 2012; 10:15:03 AM. Permalink
(AP via Anchorage Daily News, 7 January 2012) -- A Russian tanker carrying much-needed fuel for iced-in Nome was about 190 miles from its destination late Saturday afternoon and making slow but steady progress, a company official said. The city of about 3,500 people on the northwest Alaska coastline didn't get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm and could run out of crucial supplies before spring without the delivery. The 370-foot tanker was carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel and was being shepherded through hundreds of miles of sea ice by the U.S. Coast Guard's only icebreaker. "They're navigating through ice right now, taking a direct route for now," said Jason Evans, the CEO of Sitnasuak Native Corp., one of the companies undertaking the delivery. "They considered going through patches where there might be thinner ice, but determined that would have taken them on a longer route." Evans estimated the ship traveled another 20 or 30 miles after a Saturday morning report. The ship is scheduled to arrive late Monday or perhaps Tuesday. If the mission is successful, it will be the first time fuel has been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter. The Russian tanker came upon ice about a foot thick very early Friday near Nunivak Island in the eastern Bering Sea, the Coast Guard said. The tanker is following the Healy, the Coast Guard's only functioning icebreaker -- a ship of special design with a reinforced hull made to move through ice. "It's going basically as planned," Evans said.
Posted 8 January 2012; 2:01:53 PM. Permalink
(Craig Medred/Alaska Dispatch, 4 May 2011) -- The tribal leaders of the small village of Perryville on the Alaska Peninsula in a far corner of Southwest Alaska believe the wind has saved them $66,000 to date. The wind in Perryville does not blow particularly hard, but it comes steady off the Gulf of Alaska to spin 10 Skystream 3.7 wind turbines. Villagers hoisted them into the air in November of 2008 using a winch mounted on a Ford F-250 pickup truck. Then they wired them into the grid connecting the village’s power to three, existing diesel turbines. The entire project cost $150,000. All of this comes at a time when other small communities are spending millions to harness the wind. The federally funded Alaska Village Electric Cooperative plans to spend more than $3 million to bring wind power to the Bering Sea coastal village of Shaktoolik and more than $4 million to hook up turbines in Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island in Southwest Island. Mekoryuk is a community of slightly more than 200 people about 400 miles northwest of Perryville, a community of about 100. Both communities, like others all across rural Alaska, are struggling with the ever rising costs of diesel to power generators. Diesel -- the tax-free kind for home heating and power generation -- was going for about $4.50 a gallon in the regional hub of Bethel on Friday.
Posted 5 May 2011; 10:56:48 AM. Permalink
(Pierre-Henry Deshayes/AFP via Yahoo! News, 24 April 2011) -- OSLO (AFP) – The oil and gas majors are looking to the promise of the Barents Sea, attracted by Norway's political stability against a backdrop of unrest in the Middle East and falling North Sea output. Of 24 offshore oil and gas production licenses Norway awarded on April 15, half were in the Barents Sea in the Arctic, an unprecedented number. "There is unprecedented interest in our northernmost seas," Norway's Petroleum and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe said of the licensing round, adding "the present level of activity in the Barents Sea is high and increasing." Since peaking in 2001 at round three million barrels per day, Norway's oil ouput has declined steadily to around two mbpd currently. With reserves in the North Sea shrinking and major discoveries becoming rarer, Norway has decided to open up its northernmost waters in response to industry pressure and the need to ensure a steady source of income for its generous welfare state. Exploration and development in the Arctic is technologically complex and expensive, with companies having to come with extremely low temperatures, sea ice, long distances from existing infrastructure and total darkness in winter. But soaring oil prices and technological advances have made the region attractive despite the challenges, with the Arctic as a whole perhaps containing 13 percent of the oil and 30 percent of the gas on the planet not yet discovered, according to the US Geological survey. Among the firms awarded licenses earlier this month were Norwegian state-owned giant Statoil, France's GDF Suez, US giant ExxonMobil, Eni of Italy, German RWE Dea and Britain's BG.
Posted 24 April 2011; 2:35:35 PM. Permalink
(Andrew E. Kramer and Clifford Krauss/New York Times, 16 February 2011) -- The Arctic Ocean is a forbidding place for oil drillers. But that is not stopping Russia from jumping in — or Western oil companies from eagerly following. Russia, where onshore oil reserves are slowly dwindling, last month signed an Arctic exploration deal with the British petroleum giant BP, whose offshore drilling prospects in the United States were dimmed by the Gulf of Mexico disaster last year. Other Western oil companies, recognizing Moscow’s openness to new ocean drilling, are now having similar discussions with Russia. New oil from Russia could prove vital to world supplies in coming decades, now that it has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer, and as long as global demand for oil continues to rise. But as the offshore Russian efforts proceed, the oil companies will be venturing where other big countries ringing the Arctic Ocean — most notably the United States and Canada — have been wary of letting oil field development proceed, for both safety and environmental reasons. ... The Arctic holds one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural gas, the United States Geological Survey estimates. According to a 2009 report by the Energy Department, 43 of the 61 significant Arctic oil and gas fields are in Russia. The Russian side of the Arctic is particularly rich in natural gas, while the North American side is richer in oil. While the United States and Canada balk, other countries are clearing Arctic space for the industry. Norway, which last year settled a territorial dispute with Russia, is preparing to open new Arctic areas for drilling. Last year Greenland, which became semi-autonomous from Denmark in 2009, allowed Cairn Energy to do some preliminary drilling. Cairn, a Scottish company, is planning four more wells this year, while Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell are also expected to drill in the area over the next few years. But of the five countries with Arctic Ocean coastline, Russia has the most at stake in exploring and developing the region. “Russia is one of the fundamental building blocks in world oil supply,” said Daniel Yergin, the oil historian and chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “It has a critical role in the global energy balance. The Arctic will be one of the critical factors in determining how much oil Russia is producing in 15 years and exporting to the rest of the world.”
Posted 18 February 2011; 2:49:51 PM. Permalink
(University of California - Riverside press release via Science Daily, 16 February 2011) -- Geologists drilling an exploratory geothermal well in 2009 in the Krafla volcano in Iceland encountered a problem they were simply unprepared for: magma (molten rock or lava underground) which flowed unexpectedly into the well at 2.1 kilometers (6,900 ft) depth, forcing the researchers to terminate the drilling. "To the best of our knowledge, only one previous instance of magma flowing into a geothermal well while drilling has been documented," said Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, who led the research team. "We were drilling a well that was designed to search for very deep -- 4.5 kilometers (15,000 feet) -- geothermal resources in the volcano. While the magma flow interrupted our project, it gave us a unique opportunity to study the magma and test a very hot geothermal system as an energy source." Currently, a third of the electric power and 95 percent of home heating in Iceland is produced from steam and hot water that occurs naturally in volcanic rocks. "The economics of generating electric power from such geothermal steam improves the higher its temperature and pressure," Elders explained. "As you drill deeper into a hot zone the temperature and pressure rise, so it should be possible to reach an environment where a denser fluid with very high heat content, but also with unusually low viscosity occurs, so-called 'supercritical water.' Although such supercritical water is used in large coal-fired electric power plants, no one had tried to use supercritical water that should occur naturally in the deeper zones of geothermal areas." Elders and colleagues report in the March issue of Geology (the research paper was published online on Feb. 3) that although the Krafla volcano, like all other volcanoes in Iceland, is basaltic (a volcanic rock containing 45-50 percent silica), the magma they encountered is a rhyolite (a volcanic rock containing 65-70 percent silica).
Posted 16 February 2011; 9:51:58 PM. Permalink
(Nordic Council News, 25 January 2011) -- The Icelandic government will buy back a privatised power station from its Canadian owners. This is the result of a proposal from the Left-wing Socialist Green Group in the Nordic Council, supported by the singer Björk. The Left-wing Green Socialists are now calling for state ownership of natural resources to be upheld in all the Nordic countries' constitutions. The proposal is being discussed at the Nordic Council's meetings in Finland on 25 - 26 January. The proposal for securing state ownership of all natural resources was launched in November in Reykjavik at the Nordic Council's annual summit of the Council's Left-wing Green Socialists (VSG). This initiative has already had consequences in Iceland where the government has now decided to buy back the power station HS Orka. The case was helped along by Björk, the world-famous singer, who collected 50,000 signatures in support of the VSG proposal - representing support from about one in seven Icelanders. In a press release the Left-wing Green Socialists stated: "The discussion has become a popular movement which will now ensure that the Icelandic government can win back that which was lost by the sale of the power station HS Orka". In addition to writing the ownership of natural resources by the people into the constitutions of the Nordic countries, the Left-wing Green Socialist MPs call for a guarantee that all income from the use of these resources will benefit the community. "It is gratifying to follow the result of our proposal through developments in Iceland. Norway, for example, has good experience of state ownership of natural resources, such as water and hydroelectric power, even to the satisfaction of the business community", says Alf Holmelid, member of the Left-wing Green Socialists Group representing the Norwegian Socialist Left Party. The proposal has now been submitted for consideration by the Nordic Council, which will then decide whether to recommend the governments to proceed further.
Posted 26 January 2011; 2:09:53 PM. Permalink
(Julia Werdigier/New York Times, 14 January 2011) -- The British oil giant BP agreed on Friday to a partnership with Rosneft, a Russian company, forming an alliance to explore the Russian Arctic. ... The two companies would explore three license blocks on the Russian Arctic continental shelf that were awarded to Rosneft last year and span about 50,000 square miles. ... The agreement allows BP to expand its operation in Russia at a time when the demand for energy is rising and competition to explore new fields is heating up. “We are very pleased to be joining Russia’s leading oil company to jointly explore some of the most promising parts of the Russian Arctic, one of the world’s last remaining unexplored basins,” Mr. Dudley said in a statement. “This unique agreement underlines our long-term, strategic and deepening links with the world’s largest hydrocarbon-producing nation,” he added. The deal drew immediate calls for a review by a lawmaker in Washington, who noted that BP was the top petroleum supplier to the United States military in 2009.
Posted 15 January 2011; 11:02:40 PM. Permalink
(Iceland Review, 7 January 2011) -- Landsvirkjun, the national power company, and Icelandic-American company Carbon Recycling International (CRI), have agreed to conduct a joint feasibility study for constructing and operating a plant to produce renewable methanol (RM) next to the geothermal power plant at Krafla in northeast Iceland. The plant would at full capacity produce more than 100 million liters annually of RM, a clean burning high octane fuel for cars, using only carbon dioxide (CO2), water and renewable energy from the Krafla plant. The process would eliminate 45,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. The feasibility study is expected to be concluded in February 2011. Provided that the study is successful, parties reach mutually beneficial agreements and necessary permits are obtained, preparations for the engineering and site preparation of the CRI plant at Krafla may start in the first half of 2011. Landsvirkjun and CRI recently presented details of the feasibility studies and plans for fuel production to the local district council, Nordurthing.
Posted 8 January 2011; 4:08:18 PM. Permalink
(Jim Bell/Nunatsiaq News, 7 January 2011) -- Like bombs left over from a bygone war, the blunders of the pre-division planning period still blow up in the faces of Nunavut public officials. The latest is a big one: the Qulliq Energy Corp.’s aging collection of diesel-powered electrical generating plants, many of which are long overdue for replacement — and no one knows how to pay for it all. Peter Mackey, the president of QEC, told a public hearing of the Utility Rates Review Commission in Iqaluit Jan. 6 that rapid population growth and more building projects in many communities mean those plants are “being stressed to the point of failure.” He said at least six power plants in Nunavut, all between 40 and 50 years old, should have been replaced by now. For another 11 plants, built 30 to 40 years ago, the QEC should now be developing plans to design replacements and procure what’s needed to build them, Mackey said. The worst-off region is the Kitikmeot, where the average age of a power plant is 38 years. Cambridge Bay’s old plant is 44 years old, meaning that if the QEC had the money, they would replace it immediately. But since 1999, the QEC as been able to build only one new power plant in Nunavut, at Baker Lake. “It’s been 10 years since we built a new power plant. We have 25 power plants. If we take 10 years between building new power plants, it means each power plant should last 250 years,” Mackey said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News last November.
Posted 8 January 2011; 3:40:41 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 16 December 2010) -- The proposed gas pipeline from the Beaufort Sea to markets in southern Canada and the United States was billed in the 1970s as "the biggest project in the history of free enterprise." It was up to a Canadian judge, Mr. Justice Thomas Berger of British Columbia, to examine the impact of the pipeline on the people who lived in its path. Berger took to the job so thoroughly that some said he ran off with the terms of reference that established what was formally known as the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, embarrassing the Liberal government that appointed him. Berger visited the Western Arctic the summer before the hearings formally opened. He and his wife travelled throughout the region, meeting informally with the Dene, Inuit, Métis and white residents who lived and worked in the North. He held formal hearings in Yellowknife, where the experts had their say. The most innovative part of the inquiry was the community hearings, held in tents and log cabins, sometimes outdoors, with many of them ending with traditional drum dances and delicious cookouts. On May 9, 1977, Berger's report was released in Ottawa. Significantly, Berger titled his report Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, for above all he wanted the world to know that though the Mackenzie Valley may be the route for the biggest project in the history of free enterprise, people also live there. ... Berger continually referred back to his chosen title, as when he wrote: "I discovered that people in the North have strong feelings about the pipeline and large-scale frontier development. I listened to a brief by northern businessmen in Yellowknife who favour a pipeline through the North. Later, in a native village far away, I heard virtually the whole community express vehement opposition to such a pipeline. Both were talking about the same pipeline; both were talking about the same region — but for one group it is a frontier, for the other a homeland."
Posted 17 December 2010; 10:12:36 PM. Permalink
(Ken Stier/Time, 12 November 2010) -- Russians have always embraced the Arctic. Thriving communities dot the country's 4,300-mi (7,000 km) northern border, and the port town of Murmansk — home to 300,000 people — is the largest city north of the Arctic circle. America's closest competitor? Barrow, Alaska, which has some 4,000 souls. Servicing these far-flung communities has never been easy. The job has been handled largely by Russia's fleet of nuclear-powered ice-breakers, hulking vessels that have the massive horsepower needed to ram sea ice up to two meters thick and bring in needed supplies. Keeping these towns heated and lit has been another challenge — one made harder after the collapse of Soviet-era energy and transportation subsidies. Now however, the resourceful Russians have come up with an idea, one that they hope could not only secure the country's position as the preeminent Arctic power, but also blossom into a lucrative export business: floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs). The idea of FNPPs is simple, if a little scary: Outfit a barge with two 35-megawatts reactors, float them to a spot off the coast and run cables to land to distribute your power. An FNPP set-up this size could power a city of 200,000. ... FNPPs could help Russia expand its reach in another critical way: powering the country's efforts to exploit its off-shore petroleum reserves, 90% of which lie in its Arctic continental shelf. Portable reactors would eliminate the cost and headache of transporting diesel long distances in harsh weather. That has Gazprom, which is keen to develop the world's largest untapped gas field — Shtokman in the Barents Sea — signed up for several FNPPs from Rosatom, the state nuclear corporation. Other reactors are slated to be used in uranium mining. "The ultimate objective of the state policy is to transform the Arctic into 'Russia's foremost strategic base for natural resources' by 2020," notes a Norwegian Defense Institute study, citing Russian documents. Western energy and mining firms are expected to be among the first customers for small reactors — and a number of western vendors, who see a growing global market, have begun developing their own systems. Shell considered one for its energy-intensive exploitation of tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Toshiba has already interested the remote Alaskan town of Galena (pop.700) in a 'pocket nuke' of 10 MW, to unshackle it from diesel-fired electricity that costs about 10 times the price paid in the lower 48. So far though it is only Russia that is promoting water-based plants which, assurances aside, do present a host of new environmental, safety, liability and proliferation challenges.
Posted 21 November 2010; 2:03:58 PM. Permalink