President Obama Protects Arctic Waters

Outgoing President Barack Obama executed a critical order on Tuesday by banning any new gas and oil drilling in federal waters in Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The move comes as an environmental safeguard prior to the new Republican administration taking office January 20th lead by President elect Donald Trump.

Utilizing a 1950s-era law termed the Outer Continental Shelf Act, Obama used the power of President to limit areas from mineral leasing and drilling. Trump’s incoming administration will only be able to challenge and change the edict by fighting it in court according to several environmental groups agreeing with the order.

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Map of the Arctic waters to the north of Alaska just protected by President Obama. BOEM image.

The Alaskan waters ban affects 115 million acres in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea as well as 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic Ocean. A main concern of environmental advocates regarding fuel exploration in the region is the devastating affects an oil spill or gas leakage in the oceans would have on the ecosystems. Such a remote and harsh climate would severely limit the capabilities of clean-up crews and emergency response teams. Wildlife such as polar bears, whales, seals and fish would be harmed and populations of the animals could be irreversibly destroyed.

Trump has continually stated that he will seek to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the waters north of Alaska. Recent releases from his energy transition team  predicted increases in production in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These forecasts have been dealt a serious blow and are likely “dead in the water” at this time. Trump spokespeople would not comment on the actions.

Very limited oil and gas exploration has been happening in recent years as less expensive shale oil production primarily out of Texas and North Dakota has been the priority. Drilling off Arctic shores in Alaska is more expensive and risky in nature. Most notably, Shell Oil pulled out of the waters just last year following a shipping accident and limitation laws discovered by environmental groups limiting exploration.

Proponents for drilling such as the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group, stated that Trump would be able to use a presidential memorandum to lift the ban rendering the move by Obama obsolete. “We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy,” said Erik Milito, API’s upstream director.

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A view over the now protected Arctic waters from Barrow, Alaska. NASA photo.

Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are in agreement with protecting Arctic waters. The two leaders are initiating joint actions and these actions “reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.” stated Obama.

In similar action Trudeau and Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters off limits indefinitely to any future offshore Arctic gas and oil licensing. These sanctions will be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment. Obama’s action, unlike the five year review applied to the Canadian law, contains no designated analysis period outlined for the U.S. law.

Under current law, authorization is not granted for reversing a previous presidential order of this kind so efforts by Trump to challenge this move will most likely need to be taken up in court via a lawsuit.

“No president has ever tried to undo a permanent withdrawal of an ocean area from leasing eligibility,” said Neil Lawrence, Alaska director and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Natural Habitat Aurora Pod Gets New Heater

After last year’s cold temperatures in the heart of northern lights season permeated the Aurora Pod, Great White Bear Tours and Natural Habitat Adventures collaborated to install a new heater to supplement the ambient pellet stove. The new diesel heater is the same one found on all of Great White Bear’s polar rovers and should allow for a quite comfortable experience even in the deepest cold of winter. Can’t wait to see how it performs while the fantastic aurora borealis glimmers above by the Hudson Bay coast!

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The new super efficient heater installed on the exterior of the Aurora Pod. Great White Bear Tours photo.

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A sleek, space – saving heater exhaust and intake in the Aurora Pod. Great White Bear Tours photo.

Northern lights in Churchill, Manitoba

Natural Habitat’s Aurora Pod under the northern lights in Churchill. Alex De Vries Magnifico photo.

Polar Bear Icy Winter Arrives

Following an unusual two week extended polar bear “season” in the Churchill region, it finally seems that polar bears will be hunting seals out on the Hudson Bay ice – pack sooner than later. North winds and a dramatic drop in temperature has brought the ice in for good it appears. With tension around town growing increasingly high due to polar bears roaming the streets, ice on the Hudson Bay has never been more welcomed! Thanks to Polar Bear Alley and Great White Bear Tours for the awesome photos.

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Ice on the Hudson Bay in Churchill. Polar Bear Alley photo.

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Mother and cub polar bear linger in the middle of the road. Great White Bear Tours photo.

Churchill Weekly Polar Bear Stats

The Hudson Bay is not cooperating for the hungry polar bears in the Churchill region. As you can see in the notes by Conservation officers, Churchill is not so safe these days. Hopes are high that the ice will return and remain  the rest of the winter once we are through this period. Anxious polar bears on the land and in the Polar Bear Holding Facility will eagerly migrate their once formed! This extended ice – free period will affect the southern Hudson Bay polar bear population in some way. It will be quite interesting to see what transpires in years to come.

polar bear in Churchill

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Polar bear mother and cub resting on the Precambrian shield in Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.

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Ice map of the Hudson Bay region showing very little ice in the bay. Environment Canada image.

Churchill Polar Bear Family

With the south winds blowing the ice – pack away from the southern Hudson Bay coast, there are still some polar bears around Churchill at this late juncture. These three polar bear family pics were taken by local photographer Karine Genest and featured by Polar Bear Alley, a long – time Churchill blog site. While we are still enjoying all the bonus polar bear coverage from the north, we are hoping that the ice returns and covers the bay soon. Just like your local pee-wee hockey team, these hungry animals need ice – time albeit for different end “goals”!

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A sow polar bear and her two cubs relaxing near the Hudson Bay. Karine Genest photo.

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Nursing polar bear cubs while mom keeps a watchful eye. Karine Genest photo.

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Polar bears resting comfortably awaiting the return of the Hudson Bay ice. Karine Genest photo.

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