Oil and Gas Exploitation in the Arctic

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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

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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’,

Sea Level Rise and Low Lying Islands

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Written for Coursera (MOOC) Class ‘Climate Change‘ by the University of Melbourne (Sept 2013).

Because of their low elevation and small size, many small island states are threatened with partial or virtually total inundation by future rises in sea level. In addition, increased intensity or frequency of cyclones could harm many of these islands. The existence or well-being of many small island states is threatened by climate change and sea-level rise over the next century and beyond.’  – IPCC 

In a World Bank Report, ‘Convenient Solutions to an Inconvenient Truth’, published in 2009, it lists the countries with the highest risk of Climate Change threats.

World Bank Top 10 Risks

Looking at Sea Level and the threat to the countries listed, I want to have a closer look at the situation for those with most to lose, who have least political or economic influence.  The Alliance of Small island States includes the low-lying countries of interest.

Established in 1990 to provide a consolidated front in voicing the very real and immediate threats posed by global warming.  It was the first body to submit a draft text in the Kyoto negotiations in 1994.

AOSIS Members

The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) projected century-end sea levels using the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, see the graph below.  Average sea levels are predicted to rise between 0.21 and 0.45 metres by 2100.  Also note that subsequent independent studies have found the IPCC estimates to be conservative.

CHART_IPCC AR4 Sea Level Forecast

Rises in sea level has implications for coastal habitats and economies, specifically in relation to freshwater contamination and loss of land (including supported infrastructure).


Gaining independence from the UK in 1979, it remains part of the Commonwealth and is a parliamentary republic.  It comprises of 32 atolls and one coral island.  It has strong relations with Australia, Japan and New Zealand.  Approximately 90% of the population live on the Gilbert Islands, with 33% occupying an area of just 16 km2.  It is one of the most impoverished nations on earth, with little hope of retaining its territory.

It already suffers from overcrowding, with 4,700 inhabitants resettled in 1988, and in 2008 the Kiribati government approached Australia and New Zealand to accept Kiribati citizens as refugees, in preparation for sea inundation.


The president of the Refugee Council of Australia has advised the Australian government that it should prepare to create a new migration category for those fleeing the effects of climate change.[Guardian 16 April 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/apr/16/australia-climate-change-refugee-status ]

Risk Factors & Recent Impacts

Rising sea level is expected to continue in Kiribati, as with elsewhere. By conservative estimates, shown in the table below, by 2030 (under a probable high emission scenario) this rise is projected to be in the range of 5 – 14 cm.  Sea-level rise combined with natural annual changes will increase the impact of storm surges and coastal flooding.

A 50-centimetre rise, which is now considered a conservative projection for this century unless emissions are curbed, threatens the very existence of this small nation.


  • ‘Kiribati is pretty much all coastal. The people of Kiribati are witness to unprecedented coastal erosion, on both beaches and inland.’
  • ‘Many people are now being displaced from the traditional house plots they have occupied for a century or more.  Many more people are losing their food  sources: coconut trees, papaya trees and other varieties of vegetation.’
  • Freshwater sources are becoming more contaminated by sea water.
  • The majority Kiribati’s islands are so narrow that there really is no place to go. Kiribati has more than 100,000 citizens and its main island, Tarawa, suffers from severe overcrowding.
  • ‘The World Bank recently predicted the capital island of Tarawa, where nearly half the country’s population resides, will be 25 to 54 per cent inundated by water in the south and 55 to 80 percent in the north by 2050 unless significant adaptation is undertaken.’
  • ‘The village of Tebunginako in Abaiang Island has already had to relocate due to the effects of severe coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.’

Kiribati Official Site and Kiribati Video Link ]


The Maldives is an Island nation (1,190 islands in 20 atolls) in the Indian Ocean.  Largely, the Maldives have been an independent nation throughout its history, with short periods of intervention by Portugal, Netherlands and UK from which it became independent in 1965, forming a constitutional republic.

Already vulnerable to flooding due to storm surges and earthquake, rising sea levels associated with global warming are making human habitation here more precarious.  This part of South Asia is close to the equator, where sea level rise is greater than in polar ocean, and the Maldives confronting the biggest increases of between 0.100 – 0.115 metres, according to a World Bank scientific report on 19 June 2013.

[ http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/06/19/concerted-efforts-needed-to-support-maldives-adapt-to-climate-change-world-bank-report-findings-indicate ]

Expected pertubations in the monsoon system combined with elevated peak temperatures put water and food resources at severe risk.  An extremely wet monsoon, currently has a chance of occurring once in 100 years, is estimated to occur every 10 years by 2100.


Former President Mohamed Nasheed holding the world’s first underwater council of ministers in 2009.  The 30-minute cabinet meeting held six metres below sea-level was intended to show what the future could hold for the Maldives.

Risk Factors & Recent Impacts

  • 199 islands are inhabited with a population of slightly over 300,000 people. The highest point of land is 2 metres.
  • The reefs host over 1,900 species of fish, 187 coral species, and 350 crustaceans.
  • Rising sea temperatures threaten coral reefs and cause bleaching and death.  Worst damage is in the areas that are compromised by pollutants, and damaged by physical agitation.
  • Vulnerability to Climate Change threats is exacerbated by damage to coral reefs which diminishes their protective function, a negative cycle of impact.
  • With the melting of polar ice caps, the Maldives is also exposed to the risks of sea-level rise. Future sea level is projected to rise within the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, which means the entire country could be submerged in the worst-case scenario.

[ Maldives Video Link ]

TABLE_Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is an Island nation forming part of Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean, with 34 low-lying coral atolls and 1,156 individual islands.  Being variously conquered, occupied and governed by Spain, Germany, Japan and USA, the nation gained independence in 1979, forming a democratic republic.

Post world war two, the USA tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, prompting the Atomic Energy Commission to describe Islands as “the most contaminated place in the world”.   According to ‘Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940’,

$759 million was paid to the Marshallese Islanders in compensation for their exposure to U.S. nuclear testing, and in 1952 with the test of the first U.S. hydrogen bomb, the island of Elugelab in the Enewetak atoll was destroyed.

Party to the ‘Compact of Free Association’ with the United States, gives the USA sole responsibility for defense of the Islands.  It also permits Islanders to live and work in the United States.

PHOTO_Marshall Islands

‘Along the coastline of Majuro, Marshall Islands, old cars and trash are being piled up in an attempt to make seawalls and stop the rising water levels. In most places in Majuro there is no more than 50 – 100 meters in width between the Pacific and the Lagoon.’  – Greenpeace.

Risk Factors & Recent Impacts 

  • 2008:  Extreme waves and high tides caused widespread flooding in the capital city of Majuro and other urban centres. (1 metre above sea level), prompting the government declared a state of emergency.
  • 2013:  Heavy waves breached the city walls of Majuro, while drought afflicted northern atolls of the Marshall Islands.
  • Drought affected 6,000 Islanders, surviving on less than one litre of water per day.
  • Compounded by crops failures and food shortages, the impact on health was significant with the spread of drought-related diseases such as diarrhoea, pink eye and influenza.

[ Marshall Islands Video Link ]


Tuvalu is an Island nation in the Pacific Ocean (3 reef islands and 6 atolls). Initially colonized by Polynesians, the Islands (as part of the Ellice Island group) became a British protectorate in 1892.  Tuvalu became independent in 1974, forming a parliamentary democracy, but remains part of the Commonwealth.

With a very low average elevation, Tuvalu is under threat from sea level rise.  On top of this, these Islands (together with other islands in the region) are subject to annual king tide events which occur at the end of the summer.  These raise the sea level higher than a normal high tide.

King tide events cause flooding over low lying areas.  Even worse flooding is experienced during ‘La Niña’ years when local storms and high waves are particularly prevalent. Estimates of future, sea level rise, which may threaten to submerge the nation entirely, are of the order 0.20 –0.40 metres by 2100.

In this probable scenario, Tuvalu will become uninhabitable.


Risk Factors & Recent Impacts

  • A typical high tide reaches about 2.5 metres,  a King Tide can be more than 3 metres.
  • A small rise (0.5 metres) will see parts of the islands disappear.
  • Islands are founded on coral which is porous and so saving these islands would be very expensive.
  • With a population of just 11,000 people, will the outside agencies think it is economically feasible?

[ Tuvalu & Kiribati Video Link ]

Marine Energy in Scotland

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

EMEC Kawasaki Tidal

Scotland is host to the European Marine Energy Centre, located on the Orkney Islands, off the north coast.  It opened in 2003 and is the only centre of its kind in the world for both wave and tidal energy testing.  The centre is an internationally acknowledged leader in marine energy and assists in the development of industry standards and guidelines.

BBC: Tidal energy: Pentland Firth ‘could power half of Scotland’ (20 January 2014)

BBC: Pentland Firth tidal turbine project given consent (16 September 2013)

Scottish Government: Marine Scotland – Marine and Fisheries, Offshore Renewable Energy

European Marine Energy Centre (Orkney, Scotland)

Tidal energy projects at the EMEC include:

  • Andritz Hydro Hammerfest (HS1000) 1 MW
  • Atlantis Resources Corporation (AR1000) 1 MW
  • Bluewater Energy Services (BlueTEC)
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries (sea-bed mounted horizontal axis) 1 MW
  • Open Hydro (Turbine) 250 kW
  • Scotrenewables Tidal Power Ltd (SR250, SR2000) 250 kW & 2 MW
  • Tidal Generation Ltd (Deepgen) 500 kW
  • Voith Hydro (HyTide) 1 MW

Wave energy projects at the EMEC include:

Hydrokinetic Energy is the transfer of energy from natural water motion to usually electrical energy for consumption.  Hydro energy is a well established and widely adopted form of this technology associated with rivers and dams.

The leading current marine hydrokinetic designs are described below.  Taken from the Union of Concerned Scientists website.

Oscillating Water Column.  ‘Waves enter and exit a partially submerged collector from below, causing the water column inside the collector to rise and fall. The changing water level acts like a piston as it drives air that is trapped in the device above the water into a turbine, producing electricity via a coupled generator.’

Point Absorber: ‘Utilizes wave energy from all directions at a single point by using the vertical motion of waves to act as a pump that pressurizes seawater or an internal fluid, which drives a turbine. This type of device has many possible configurations. One configuration, called a hose pump point absorber, consists of a surface-floating buoy anchored to the sea floor, with the turbine device as part of the vertical connection. The wave-induced vertical motion of the buoy causes the connection to expand and contract, producing the necessary pumping action. Through engineering to generate device-wave resonance, energy capture and electricity generation by point absorbers can be maximized.’

Attenuator:Also known as heave-surge devices, these long, jointed floating structures are aligned parallel to the wave direction and generate electricity by riding the waves. The device, anchored at each end, utilizes passing waves to set each section into rotational motion relative to the next segment. Their relative motion, concentrated at the joints between the segments, is used to pressurize a hydraulic piston that drives fluids through a motor, which turns the coupled generator.’

Overtopping Device: ‘A floating reservoir, in effect, is formed as waves break over the walls of the device. The reservoir creates a head of water—a water level higher than that of the surrounding ocean surface—which generates the pressure necessary to turn a hydro turbine as the water flows out the bottom of the device, back into the sea.’

Rotating devices: ‘Capture the kinetic energy of a flow of water, such as a tidal stream, ocean current or river, as it passes across a rotor. The rotor turns with the current, creating rotational energy that is converted into electricity by a generator. Rotational devices used in water currents are conceptually akin to, and some designs look very similar to, the wind turbines already in widespread use today – a similarity that has helped to speed up the technological development of the water-based turbines. Some rotational device designs, like most wind turbines, rotate around a horizontal axis, while other, more theoretical concepts are oriented around a vertical axis, with some designs resembling egg beaters.’