Oil and Gas Exploitation in the Arctic

titles_aquaculture oceans_4

Written for Coursera (MOOC) Class ‘Ocean Solutions‘ by University of Western Australia (June 2014)

Ownership of the Arctic region has been disputed over the past century.  Discovery of Oil and Gas resources in the Arctic and improved accessibility in recent years has heightened the stakes.

  • The Arctic constitutes 5% of the earth’s surface area [1]
  • It is estimated that the Arctic Region holds the largest virgin oil and gas fields in the world [2].
  • Global warming and retreating ice is making the region more accessible [2].
  • Five countries border the region: Russia, USA, Canada, Norway and Denmark (Greenland).
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UCLOS) states that each country has rights to a 200 nautical mile (370 km) area beyond the coast in the ‘Exclusive Economic Zones’
  • Most of the Arctic lies in International waters.

MAP_Arctic Oil

The US Geological Survey published estimates of Arctic Oil and Gas inventories in 2008 [4].

  • 90 billion barrels of oil.
  • 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
  • 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.
  • 84 percent of resources in offshore areas.

Ownership of the oceans and ocean floor is governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UCLOS) [5].

This international law sets out a 200 mile ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’, extending from the coastline.  Within this area of sea, a nation has rights for exploiting and managing all materials (living and non-living) in the water and below the sea bed [6].

A sub-group of UNCLOS contains the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), which allows for a nation to extend sovereignty beyond the limits of the EEZ if the CLCS verifies that a country’s continental shelf extends further [3].

In order that a claim to extend the EEZ can be made, a country must ratify UCLOS.  As of 2014, all Arctic nations have ratified UCLOS except USA.

Currently, there is no clear ownership of the Arctic beyond the EEZ limits of bordering nations.  The Arctic Council (established 1996) is an exclusive body which seeks to resolve issues between member states, and commissioning joint research in the Arctic environment.

There is great interest in exploiting the fossil fuel mineral wealth in the Arctic, and ownership of the mineral rights would lead to lucrative deals.

There are grave concerns for the Arctic environment, as oil pollution from accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, would be devastating to the pristine Arctic [7].

Cleaning-up spills in the Arctic would be much more difficult, due to the icy water and remoteness from response facilities [8].

I believe that no exploitation of Oil and Gas in the Arctic, beyond currently recognised EEZs should be allowed, until a robust framework for environmental protection and sharing of resources is agreed.

The stewardship of the international waters of the Arctic should be the responsibility of the United Nations (UCLOS) with a leading role for the Arctic Council.


[1] ‘The New North’, Nature vol 478, 13 October 2011

[2] ‘Redrawing the Arctic Map’, Nature vol 478, 12 Oct 2011

[3] ‘Evolution of Arctic Territorial Claims and Agreements: A Timeline (1903-Present)’, Stimson

[4] USGS, ‘Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle

[5] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UCLOS),

[6] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 9.0 Governance 9.2.1 Current International Law

[7] The Guardian, ‘Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf oil spill – the key questions answered’, 20 April 2011

[8] WWF Global, ‘Arctic Oil & Gas


Pentland Firth Tidal Energy

titles_aquaculture oceans_4

titles_energy production_4

Written for Coursera (MOOC) Class ‘Ocean Solutions‘ by University of Western Australia (June 2014)

Location:  North Coast of Scotland (UK), near the town of Thurso on the Pentland Firth.

Marine Tidal Energy has great potential in this location and preliminary testing is progressing with promising results [1].

The Pentland Firth has been identified as one of the best locations for harnessing tidal energy in the world.  The Firth is a narrow stretch of ocean between mainland Scotland and the Orkney Islands [2].  The North Atlantic meets the North Sea at this point and the tidal flow through the Firth is very high.

MAP_Pentland Firth

The leading Tidal Energy devices are bladed turbines, similar in appearance and operation to Wind Turbines, which are mounted on the seabed [3].

Tidal energy is very regular and predictable, unlike wind power, and since water is much denser than air, smaller turbines can yield more energy underwater [4].  It has the added advantage of being less of a potential nusance, since the turbines are located underwater and out of sight, and do not generate much noise.

PIC_Pentland Tidal Diagram

Some disadvantages of tidal energy technologies are that they need to be robust enough to cope with the harsh marine environment, and are more difficult to maintain.  These aspects mean that construction and running costs are higher than land based technologies.

PIC_Pentland Wave Photo

A team of scientists from Oxford and Edinburgh Universities estimates energy output potential of between 1.9 – 4.2 GW (16 – 35 TWh annually) [5].  The oceans are an abundant source of renewable energy, which are under utilised at present [6].

Justification for choosing Tidal Energy in my location, is supported by the scale of this natural resource, together with the strength of international interest in developing marine tidal energy here.  The European Marine Energy Centre (the only facility of its kind in the world) is located on Orkney, and as well as facilitating testing on energy devices, it plays a leading role in developing international standards for the industry [7].

Harvesting energy locally is important for Energy Security, so that we are not reliant on imported power [8].

Tidal Energy in the Pentland Firth is one of several measures in the suite of technologies currently being researched and deployed throughout Scotland (and the UK), including onshore and offshore Wind Turbines, Solar PV, Wave Energy devices, and Geothermal plant.

Scotland is committed to producing 100% of its electricity (consumption) from renewables by 2020 [9].  In February of this year, the Scottish Government granted £4.8 million to marine energy projects [10].


[1] The Scotsman, ‘Pentland Firth tides ‘can power half of Scotland’, 20 January 2014.

[2] Tidal Energy EU, ‘Pentland Firth

[3] Meygen, Tidal Energy Turbine

[4] Environment: benefits of tidal 

[5] Green Energy Scotland

[6] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 3.0 Ocean Solutions 3.1.3 Energy Abundance

[7] European Marine Energy Centre, Orkney, Scotland

[8] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 2.0 The Challenge 2.1.3 Energy Security

[9] Scottish Government, ‘Renewables revolution aims for 100%’, 18 May 2011

[10] Scottish Government, ‘£4.8 million boost to marine energy sector’, 26 February 2014.


titles_aquaculture oceans_4

Written for Coursera (MOOC) Class ‘Ocean Solutions‘ by University of Western Australia (June 2014)

Arguably, the greatest challenge facing humanity today is provision of fresh water.  Water is critical for all life on earth and humans consume an average of 1,385 m3/yr [1].  We are approaching the limit of natural fresh water availability required to match consumption [2].

PIC_Desalination Simple

The scope of this challenge is global.  According to UNESCO, more than 780 million people (10.8%) have no access to clean water, 2.5 billion (34.7%) have inadequate sanitation and around 7 million die annually from water related disease [3].

The reason for selecting this challenge is that with rising populations [4] and the prospect of significantly altered weather patterns due to global warming, provision of adequate fresh water supplies to areas of dense population and agricultural land is likely to intensify over the next few decades and beyond [5].

PIC_Desalination Global Capacity

One way to help alleviate water scarcity is by more efficient use of available water, recycling of grey water for sanitation, agriculture/horticulture, and industry [6].

The trend in the last century has been for increased global water consumption by a factor of ten [7].

  • China: 1.071 m3/yr
  • India: 1.089 m3/yr
  • USA: 2,842 m3/yr

Sources of freshwater are:

  • 74% Rainwater
  • 11% Ground/Surface Water
  • 15% Polluted Water

Agriculture is by far the largest consumer of fresh water [8].


  • Agriculture 92%
  • Cereals 27%
  • Meat 22%
  • Milk Products 7%
  • Industry 4.4%
  • Domestic 3.6%.

The driest half of the earth is occupied by 85% of the human population [3].

An ocean-based initiative to this problem is Desalination, which converts salt water to fresh water, by a process of reverse osmosis.  Salt water is pressurised (250 – 1000 psi) and passed through a series of membranes, which strips out the impurities, including salt [9].  Desalination technology can be used to convert seawater, brackish water and waste water.

The reason and justification for making this decision is that desalination plants are already in use across the world, having been developed in the 1950s.  The technology has been particularly successful in arid regions which have the financial resources to construct plants, such as the Middle-East and the Western USA [10].

The cost of desalination plant is reducing with time, and the quantity of installations increasing.  Since the 1970s, global production doubles every decade, and costs have reduced by half every 15 years [11].

PIC_Desalination Process

Factors that impede desalination in delivering fresh water, a key resource for humanity include: Capital Cost, Energy Consumption and Public Perception of Water Quality.

As water becomes more scarce, the cost of plant will have to be met since few other options are available.  The cost is falling with time and with an expansion, economies of scale may make it more affordable.

Desalination is energy intensive, but since the worst drought affected areas are in the tropics, solar power can be harnessed [12].

Public perception is that desalinated water does not taste as good as natural fresh water.  However, ‘blind tests’ indicate that there is no real difference in water quality [13].  Desalinated water is often a healthier option, since the process also removes harmful bacteria [14].


[1] ‘The water footprint of humanity’, Pratibha Joshi, March 6, 2012

[2] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 2.0 The Challenge 2.1.2 Water Security

[3] ‘United Nations: Water Cooperation’, Facts and Figures

[4] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 1.0 Problem Statement 1.1.1 Population Growth

[5] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 1.0 Problem Statement 1.1.2 Population Projections

[6] US Environmental Protection Agency, ‘Water Recycling and Reuse

[7] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 1.0 Problem Statement 1.2.4 Per Capita Water Use

[8] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 1.0 Problem Statement 1.5.9 Water Cycling

[9] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 5.0 Water  5.1.2 Process – Reverse Osmosis

[10] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 5.0 Water  5.1.4 Global Desalination Capacity

[11] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 5.0 Water  5.1.5 Desalination Production and Cost

[12] ‘Is solar-powered desalination answer to water independence for California?’, The Guardian, 28 January 2014

[13] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 5.0 Water  5.2.4 Perception Water Quality

[14] World Health Organisation, ‘Water Sanitation and Health’,

UK Domestic Buildings Energy Efficiency

titles_energy efficiency_4

Written for the Coursera (MOOC) Class ‘Energy, the Environment and Our Future’ by Pennsylvania State University (March 2014).

In the UK there is concern over future electricity generation since most of the current Coal and Nuclear capacity is approaching end of design life.  No new Nuclear stations have been built since 1995 (Sizewell B), and of the nine in operation (9.2 GW) eight are due to be decommissioned within the next ten years.  Many of them have been extended beyond their design lives already.

Indigenous supplies of North Sea oil and gas is in decline.  The UK imports most of its oil from Norway, and much of its gas.

With ambitious targets set for emissions reductions of CO2, fossil fuel technology is being displaced by renewable energy sources.

Energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important in ensuring energy security.

Summary of Action for UK:

  • Continued and Improved National Investment in Building Insulation
  • Small short-term replacement of Nuclear Capacity
  • Continued development of Wind Energy
  • Continued Research and Development of Tidal and Geothermal Energy
  • Substantial Increase in Pumped Storage Capacity
  • National Focus on Decarbonising Transportation, R&D Investment

Building Insulation

A major component of energy consumption in the UK relates to losses from poor building insulation.  The UK housing stock is approximately 24.5 million homes.

TABLE_1_UK Energy Consumption

Domestic space heating in the UK accounts for 1/5 of total energy consumption. [1]

As a first step in energy conservation, these losses must be reduced by upgrading the thermal performance of sub-standard buildings.  Many buildings in the UK are hundreds of years old, 21% built before 1919.  Those other than new builds over the past decade are likely to have sub-standard insulation.

According to the Energy Saving Trust in an uninsulated home, 20% heat loss through windows & doors, 25% heat loss through the loft/roof space, 33% heat loss through uninsulated cavity walls  and 45% heat loss through uninsulated solid walls. [2]

The Green Deal (2012) is designed to reduce the upfront costs to the consumer of energy efficiency.  Repayment is made through savings on their energy bills.

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO 2013) places a duty on energy companies both to reduce emissions through undertaking solid wall insulation and to tackle fuel poverty by installing central heating systems, replacing boilers, and subsidising cavity wall and loft insulation.  [3]

Housing Stock

According to the English Housing Survey, Housing stock report 2008:

  • Around 22.2 million dwellings in England (26.3 in UK).
  • 15 million dwellings were owner occupied and 3.3 million were privately rented.
  • Remaining 3.9 million were fairly evenly divided between local authorities and housing associations.
  • One in five (21%) dwellings were built before 1919.
  • Three quarters of these older dwellings have been subject to at least some major alterations since they were built and 43% have had extensions or loft conversions added.
  • Dwellings built after 1990 accounted for just 12% of the stock.
  • The majority (81%) of dwellings were houses or bungalows; most of these being two storey houses.
  • Flats made up 19% of the stock.
  • The average useable floor area of dwellings in England was 91m2.
  • One in ten dwellings have attics (either as built and loft conversions).
  • 95% of dwellings were of traditional masonry or timber construction; the majority of these were cavity brick/block.

Although this only applies to England, it is a good approximation for the majority of UK housing. [4]

TABLE_2_UK Housing Stock

There is a housing shortage in the UK, and as the population is increasing, more homes need to be built.  There has been a steady increase in house numbers over the past six years, with new houses built with a good standard of insulation. [5]

TABLE_3_UK Home Insulation

As well as improvements in new housing, the existing housing stock is being improved, in both private dwellings and rented accommodation. [6]

TABLE_4_UK Domestic Energy Cons 2011

Heating in this relatively cold northern European country accounts for about 80% of domestic energy consumption, 60% on space heating alone. [7]

TABLE_5_UK Energy Cons 2011

Insulation in Older Housing Stock 

Houses with solid walls were commonly built before 1930 throughout UK.  They account for about 25% of the housing stock. [8]

This type of wall construction is the most difficult and expensive to insulate.  Whereas most cavity walled (double skin) buildings can be injected with insulation foam, solid wall have to be clad, either internally or externally.

According to the UK National Insulation Association:

The UK’s housing stock is estimated at approximately 24.5 million dwellings, of that approximately 36% consist of non-cavity wall construction – solid brick, solid stone, pre 1944 timber frame and non-traditional, i.e. concrete construction.’  [9]


Incentives to Upgrade

There are several incentive schemes on offer to property owners for insulation upgrade work, but the rate of improvement on the whole has been slow.

The UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change realise that the two schemes on offer are not attracting enough participants. 

‘ Ed Davey (Energy Secretary) said that while take-up of green deal financing had been poor with just a few hundred homes using it, a million homes in England and Wales will have been insulated by April 2015 under the broader green deal scheme and its sister Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) since they began in January 2013.’ [10]

The ECO scheme is attributed as incentivising a large portion of the 457,000 properties insulated in recent years, still a small percentage of the tens of millions of homes with sub-standard insulation.

That scheme was implemented both to help insulate the homes of people in fuel poverty and difficult to insulate buildings, those older properties with solid walls.

The logistics and expense of having assessment reports carried out, and the unattractive 8% interest on finance are putting many people off.  The disruption of having modification work in your home is another disincentive.

Around 150,000 assessments (costing £100-£150), have been carried out since the Green Deal began, but the take-up of insulation work has been minimal. [10]

However, with energy prices rising, improved insulation is an obvious way to future proof against this.  Overall energy efficiency will help the country in reducing total energy consumption.


CHART_1_UK Home Insulation Levels 1990-2012

The level of insulation varies with the age of buildings and the building standards at the time of construction.  It has only been since the energy crises of the 1970s that standards have improved.  Again the building standards were raised in the past decade in light of concerns over CO2 emissions and rising energy costs.

CHART_2_UK Average Heat Loss 1990-2012

Translating insulation quality into energy losses, the largest gains are by insulating very old buildings which have little or no insulation.  It is these buildings which are more likely to be solid wall.

The vast majority of buildings have some level of insulation, but would benefit from upgrading.  The spikes in heat loss 1991, 1993, 1996, 2010 and 2012, relate to low annual average temperatures.  More energy is required to maintain rooms at a comfortable temperature.  Leaky buildings lose heat at a greater rate.

CHART_3_UK Domestic Space Heating 1990-2012

The overall trend in space heating energy consumption is linked to the number of households, the average temperature and the quality of building insulation.

TABLE_6_UK Levels of Home Insulation

For the purposes of this analysis, I chose three levels of insulation, high, medium & low.  These relate to the building standards of the time.  The largest band of medium insulation level is a broad average which best fits the energy consumption data.

CHART_4_UK Energy Savings for Insulation

In 2012 it is estimated that 17.5% of the housing stock is well insulated.  This leaves a lot of room for improvement.  As can be seen, from the linear relationship between percent of homes well insulated to national energy savings, significant energy savings can be achieved.


[1]  Digest of UK Energy Statistics 2012, UK Government (DECC)         

[2]  National Insulation Association, ‘Did You Know – Facts’, March 2014. 

[3]  The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future’, UK Gov 2011 

[4]  ‘English Housing Survey, Housing stock report 2008’, October 2010

(UK Department for Communities and Local Government) 

[5]  ‘Live tables on dwelling stock’, UK Gov – Dept Communities & Local Gov (Feb 2014) 

[6]  ‘Estimates of home insulation levels in Great Britain.’, UK Gov (DECC) Sept 2013 

[7]  ‘Special Feature – Estimates of Heat Use in the UK’, UK Gov – DECC July 2012

[8]  ‘How can I insulate my house if I don’t have cavity walls?‘, The Telegraph, 14 January 2014.

[9]  National Insulation Association (UK) 7 Mar 2014.

[10]  ‘Green deal loan take-up is ‘disappointing’, The Guardian, 5 March 2014