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Executive Summary for July 6th

In this week’s roundup, we report on a call to reconsider the future of oil rigs in the North Sea, the increasing struggle to fight coastal “dead zones” as seas warm and how European firms are profiting from U.S. offshore wind energy plans.

Published on July 6, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

In North Sea, Where Will Offshore Oil Rigs Go to Die?

Many offshore oil rigs are nearing the end of their useful life in the North Sea, and experts are calling for a new vision of how they will be decommissioned, according to a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Usually, rigs are fully removed and the seabed restored, but a less traditional approach allows for leaving them fully or partially in place so that they can continue to provide artificial reef habitat for marine organisms and protect the seabed from fishing. Such so-called “rigs-to-reefs” projects are currently most common in the Gulf of Mexico. After conducting a survey of experts, the paper’s authors suggest that there is support for European countries to revise policies to allow for case-by-case considerations for both offshore oil rig and offshore wind turbine removal.

Not everyone agrees. Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, told the BBC that the hard structure of a rig would represent a distortion of the natural ecosystem. More importantly, he said: “We should be wary of proposals that look like a convenient way of oil companies avoiding their responsibility to clean up after themselves.”

Beating the Baltic Sea Dead Zone Will Get Harder

Not in the last 1,500 years has the Baltic Sea seen such low oxygen levels, according to a new study, and recovery in this massive “dead zone” is expected to become more challenging as the climate warms.

Researchers writing in the journal Biogeosciences, blame human activities, especially sewage and agricultural pollution that fuel oxygen-consuming algae blooms, for the region’s current dead zone – one of the worst in the world. To understand how modern oxygen levels compare to pre-industrial times, they drilled cores of sediment from the seafloor to gauge oxygen levels in past centuries.

Dead zones of recent decades have been the worst historically, the scientists found, but looking back, they also saw low oxygen levels about 1,000 years ago, during a period of relative warm temperatures in the medieval period. This, they say, is evidence of how the combined effects of climate change and human pollution will make it harder for dead zones to recover in the future. Warming waters naturally hold less oxygen. In one area of the Baltic Sea, near the coasts of Finland and Sweden, they found that recent measures to reduce nutrient pollution in the sea have produced “no evidence of recovery.”

European Firms Benefit From Trump’s Offshore Wind Push

The Trump administration, with its focus on domestic energy and jobs, wants to speed the pace of offshore wind energy development in the United States. A Reuters report suggests it is European firms – far more experienced with offshore wind project development – that are poised to take advantage.

The piece notes that European-backed companies have won all eight competitive lease auctions since 2014, such as a bid last year for 80,000 acres off the coast of New York. In April, the largest ever U.S. contract, for coastal Massachusetts, went to a partnership between the Copenhagen Infrastructure Fund and Avangrid, the American division of a Spanish company.

Seven of 12 currently active federal offshore wind leases are owned by European-backed companies, the article says. It also quotes U.S. wind energy companies, which mainly work onshore, as being hesitant to enter the offshore market. Foreign firms are also supplying much of the equipment, such as cables and turbines, to early projects.

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