Tag Archives: #drilling

The Whale in the Water

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The Dutch painting here, by Hendrick van Anthonissen, has led a double life.

In its original form, it showed an object of fascination: a freshly stranded whale at during the mid-17th century. There was a widespread public interest in these large creatures around this time, which saw an expanding Dutch whaling industry and widespread use of whale blubber as an oil source.

View of Scheveningen Sands (1641) Artist: Hendrick van Anthonissen via The History Blog

View of Scheveningen Sands (1641)
Artist: Hendrick van Anthonissen via The History Blog

Sometime during the 19th century, the painting was transformed into a quiet beach scene, the dead animal/fuel source painted over, perhaps because the painting’s owner didn’t like the whale but liked the beach, or because whales had lost some of their allure as an exotic beast and source of energy, and had been reduced to just another material resource for everything from buggy whips to corset stays. And oil.

The whale-less version. Source: The History Blog

The whale-less version.
Source: The History Blog

Whale oil was once our favorite oil for lighting the dark nights. This was long before we used other kinds of oil to power our modern world.

Lately, there have been so many articles recently about hydraulic fracturing – fracking – for gas and shale oil.

One says the debate over fracking is over – because the fracking side won.

Another says the UK government wants to grant land access to fracking companies (i.e. oil and gas companies) to exploit land 300 m (985 ft) beneath the surface, and suggests a payment of £20,000 per well to those living on the surface. Here’s one that announces a 96% reduction in the estimate of oil and gas reserves that could be exploited in California, even as optimistic California oil companies and politicians ignore the study and continue to position themselves for a new oil rush.

And here’s an article that says even North Dakota, an epicenter of fracking enthusiasm, is considering some limitations when it comes to issuing drilling permits in historical sites, parks or areas of particular beauty.

Drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline, Wyoming. Photo: Linda Baker

Drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline, Wyoming..
If this were a painting, it would be easy enough to imagine wanting to view the landscape minus the rig.
Photo: Linda Baker

Lost in this entire discussion, for the moment, is whether the pursuit of and massive investment in oil and gas is a reasonable course of action when compared to the same kind of investment in renewable energy sources.

Sure, natural gas emits less CO2 – but a recent U.S. Department of Energy report indicates that the reduced carbon dioxide emissions for the so-called ‘cleaner’ fossil-fuel are outweighed by much higher emissions of other, more harmful greenhouse gases such as methane over the life cycle of liquefied natural gas.

Whoever varnished over the whale in the van Anthonissen painting decided it was no longer an appetizing sight, and preferred to have groups of passers-by gazing out at a calm sea untroubled by an unsightly cetacean, symbol of a major source of wealth, oil, employment and commerce.

I see the discussion over the use of fossil fuels disappearing in the same way as the whale in the water – simply varnished over in favor of a more pleasant view: That of easy energy, jobs, tax income and wealth from fossil fuels, without any unsightly environmental or human costs.

 

Floating Seafloor

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Floating Seafloor
A vast community of ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf. Photo: Frank Rack

Glowing ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf.
Photo: Frank Rack

In 2010, a research team for the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program (ANDRILL) was working off the Ross Ice Shelf, deploying a remote-controlled submersible robot beneath the ice to investigate south pole water currents. A deep hole (850 ft / 259 m) was drilled in the ice, the robot plopped into the water below, and then it happened.

Where the researchers expected to be looking at open water and currents, they found an entirely unexplored ecosystem attached to the underside of the ice.

Anemones, marine worms, amphipods, and a previously unknown creatures simply dubbed ‘the eggroll’. Anemones, which are usually known for burrowing into sand, are not known for living on ice. The entire underside of the ice shelf was inhabited as if it were an upside-down sea floor.

The engineering project had become a different creature itself, a voyage of evolutionary exploration.

It’s an excellent reminder that sometimes the best way to discover the unexpected is to go in search of something else.

Close-up of ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside Photo: Frank Rack

Close-up of ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside
Photo: Frank Rack

Original study: Daly M, Rack F, Zook R (2013) Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083476