NEWS OF THE DAY:
From the Washington Examiner, Daily on Energy:
EIA’S REALITY CHECK ON CURRENT EMISSIONS TRAJECTORY: Without significant policy changes or technological breakthroughs, global energy consumption and carbon emissions will increase through 2050 as a result of population and economic growth, the Energy Information Administration projects in its annual International Energy Outlook released this morning.
Renewables will be the primary source for new electricity generation because of falling costs and favorable policies, but the addition of more solar and wind won’t necessarily translate to displacing incumbent fossil fuels.
Indeed, EIA expects natural gas and coal to remain on the system to help meet load and support grid reliability.
And oil and gas production will continue to grow, mainly to support increasing energy consumption in developing Asian economies.
Electricity generation is expected to almost double in the developing countries between 2020 and 2050.
The same trend holds in transportation: There will be significant growth in electric vehicle sales through 2050, causing the gasoline-powered fleet to peak in 2023 for countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and in 2038 globally.
Despite that increase in EV sales, the continued growth in energy consumption means emissions will continue to rise.
What it means: EIA’s analysis does not take into account emissions pledges made by countries as part of the Paris Agreement that haven’t codified actual policies to meet them (looking at you, U.S.).
It does consider carbon reduction policies on the books, like Canada’s carbon tax and the European Union’s cap-and-trade system.
It’s highly unlikely regulations and laws across the world will stay stagnant as governments look to translate their emissions reduction pledges into policy, but the EIA projections underscore the clean energy transition won’t happen on its own.
Alaska regulators reach deal with Petro Star on royalty oil sale
Elwood Brehmer, Alaska Journal of Commerce, October 6, 2021
Officials in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources have agreed with Petro Star Inc. on a royalty oil sale that avoids the need for legislative approval.
A best interest finding signed by DNR Commissioner Corri Feige and published Sept. 23 along with the proposed contract states that department officials, for their part, opted for a shorter contract out of concerns a longer approval process could lead to interruptions in the delivery of royalty oil to Petro Star.
The longer-term contracts DNR officials have often negotiated with the state’s refiners are required to be reviewed by the state Royalty Oil and Gas Development Board and approved by the Legislature. The longer contracts are rarely politically controversial but they can move slowly, the best interest finding notes.
“This approval process takes time, and here, could mean months without royalty oil being delivered to Petro Star’s two refineries, but contracts entered into to relieve market conditions are not required to go through these steps so long as they are for one year or less, pursuant to (state law),” the document states.
Petro Star Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Its refineries largely produce jet fuel, diesel, and heating oil.
The state’s existing contract with Petro Star expires in December. It took effect in 2018.
DNR sells much of the state’s royalty oil to local refiners because the state can typically make a small per-barrel premium when it is sold in-kind versus receiving an in-value payment from the producers for the state’s oil that they sell. Department officials and local refiners agree on a negotiated price differential that allows the state to capture some of the revenue lost from transportation costs when oil is otherwise shipped to West Coast refineries.
In recent royalty in-kind, or RIK, oil contracts, the state has generally netted $1 to $2 more per barrel than if it sold its royalty oil in-value, according to DNR; however, the state briefly lost money when oil prices and demand collapsed last year with the onset of the pandemic.
DNR officials estimate the Petro Star sales could net the state roughly $4 million over what it would receive from royalty in-value, or RIV, sales in which the producers sell Alaska’s oil — typically to West Coast refineries — on the state’s behalf.
The marine transportation costs for Alaska North Slope crude are expected to total approximately $3.25 per barrel in fiscal years 2022-23, according to state projections.
The agreement with Petro Star calls for the state to cumulatively sell 10,000 barrels of oil per day in 2022 to the company’s refineries in North Pole and Valdez for a RIK price differential of $2.17 per barrel, meaning the state would generally collect the delta between the marine costs and the RIK differential as additional income.
The volume represents about 12 percent to 17 percent of the state’s available royalty oil based on production forecasts, according to the finding, and the RIK differential matches the contract DNR officials signed with Marathon Petroleum Corp. in late April.
The contract with Marathon, which owns the Kenai refinery, is for 10,000-15,000 barrels per day and is also for one year.
DNR officials do not commit all of the state’s oil to RIK contracts, in order to maintain some RIV sales through which they can gain insight to oil market information that otherwise is difficult to come by.
Surging natural gas prices don’t spur drilling — for now
Mike Lee, Carlos Anchondo, ENERGYWIRE, October 4, 2021
The U.S. natural gas industry has largely avoided the temptation to return to its free-spending ways, despite prices that have reached their highest in the last seven years.
The number of rigs searching for gas stayed the same last week compared to the week before, according to Houston-based Baker Hughes Co., and the oil field data firm Enverus said drilling activity in most basins has stayed flat.
It’s a change of pace for an industry that came to symbolize the boom-and-bust energy cycle as fracking technology ushered in a shale drilling bonanza in the early 2010s. Gas producers, especially independent companies, frequently loaded up on debt to drill more wells when prices were high, leaving them in dire straits when prices crashed (Energywire, June 29, 2020).
This time, though, most companies seem poised to live within their means, even after U.S. gas prices rose above $5.50 per thousand cubic feet last week.
“It is a very different drilling response than we’ve seen to high prices in the first 10 years of the shale era,” said Amber McCullagh, a director at Enverus.
A sustained period of high prices could have ripple impacts across the energy system. It could give more ammunition to the handful of energy producers that plan to invest their oil and gas profits into renewable electric generation, for instance. And if prices stay high overseas, companies could be enticed to build more gas export facilities in the U.S.
For now, though, many analysts believe the price increase is temporary. Demand for fuel has been rising as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the supply was temporarily crimped when Hurricane Ida shut down production in the Gulf of Mexico in August.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that production will recover and said prices will hit $4.25 in January before declining through the first half of 2022.
For now, the biggest growth market for U.S. gas is in exports, primarily of liquefied natural gas. McCullagh said Enverus has seen a pickup in drilling in the Haynesville Shale formation in Louisiana, which is close to Gulf Coast export facilities.
Existing U.S. export terminals are running at full capacity to meet demand for gas in Europe and Asia, said Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas.
It takes years to plan and build new export operations, which chill gas to sub-zero temperatures and load it on specially designed tankers. A short-term increase in prices may help projects that are in the final planning stages, but it’s unlikely to boost long-term construction of new facilities, Riedl said.
“If this kind of market signal right now was going to exist for the next three years, then absolutely … it would be a turning point for LNG projects,” he said.
“Those projects that are either waiting to be sanctioned or trying to find [a] final investment decision, those projects can maybe benefit from this.”
For the same reason, a short-term price increase is unlikely to cause European energy companies like Equinor ASA and TotalEnergies SE to change their energy transition plans, said Ryan Duman, principal analyst for the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
U.S. producers have their own reasons to be careful — investors and lenders are pressuring companies to limit their spending, Duman said. And some companies have taken out long-term hedging contracts that guarantee them a set price for their gas production, which means they don’t see a benefit if the market price exceeds their hedged price.
“If companies had their ways, in some cases, I’m sure at least a few of them would add back some rigs,” Duman said.
Senators blast new US mining royalty plan as anti-green, pro-China
Mining.Com, October 5, 2021
In Washinton on Tuesday, members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) came out in opposition of House Democrats’ attempt to change the mining law through a partisan budget process.
US mining companies have blasted proposals in Congress that would set royalties for copper, lithium and other minerals extracted from federal land, with executives saying the measures would hurt domestic production of the building blocks for solar panels, electric vehicles and other green technologies.
“The race for electric vehicles and electrification of the economy requires metals and mining, and that needs to be incentivized, not stalled,” Rich Nolan, head of the National Mining Association, told Reuters.
The House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee added language to the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation spending measure earlier this month that would set an 8% gross royalty on existing mines and 4% on new ones. There would also be a 7-cent fee for every tonne of rock moved.
That would mark one of the most-substantial changes to the law that has governed U.S. mining since 1872 and could raise about $2 billion over 10 years for federal coffers.
150-year-old mining law
The 1872 law did not set royalties in order to encourage development of more than 350 million acres in the western United States. Miners say it should remain as-is or be tweaked only slightly. Environmentalists have long said the law should be updated to require the industry to pay to extract minerals on taxpayer-owned land.
“The Law of 1872 is egregious by modern standards,” said Autumn Hanna, vice president, Taxpayers for Common Sense. “No one sets a price for land and leaves it for 150 years.”
“The president and House Democrats want to make it more difficult to get to these minerals we need. And they seek to eliminate all mining on federal lands,” said Ranking Republican Member John Barrasso (Wyoming) in Tuesday’s hearing.
“Last month, House Democrats advanced partisan budget legislation – their reckless tax and spending spree – that would impose punishing royalties on existing and new mines on federal land. House Democrats also plan to raise fees and impose a tax on mining firms. The fees are based on the amount of dirt they moved. You can’t make this stuff up. House Democrats are planning to tax dirt,” Barrasso said.
The state of Nevada is home to the largest gold mining complex in the world, Nevada Gold Mines, a joint venture between the world’s top two gold miners —Newmont and Barrick.
“I oppose the reform proposal that was put forward in the House of Representatives because, one, the legislation would have an unfair, outsized impact on the state of Nevada, where most of the land is owned by the federal government and it imposes taxes on federal land. But more importantly, moving this type of reform through a short-term budget process would create uncertainty for the industry and uncertainty that supports thousands of jobs across the country,” said Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada).
The proposed new royalty rates would affect hard rock mining but are part of a series of other proposed fee hikes on oil, coal, and natural gas extraction.
The committee had also approved language that would block Rio Tinto from building its Resolution copper mine in Arizona. The world’s second-largest miner has spent more than $2 billion on the project in the past decade but has yet to produce any copper, the red metal used in electric vehicles and other electronics.
“This is clearly an example where the legislation will help China and hurt the United States and make us more dependent on China and potentially other adversaries for critical minerals that we need, including for our national defense,” said North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven.
Voters in 36 states will elect a governor next year. Here’s a cheat sheet.
Zach Montellaro, Politico, October 6, 2021
Next year, 36 of the 50 states will elect governors, and the races are already taking shape.
The country found out just how important governors are over the past 20 months. Next year, the vast majority of Americans will decide whether those leaders should keep their jobs after the once-in-a-generation pandemic.
While the midterms have often been cast as a referendum on which party should control Washington, voters in 36 states will also elect governors in 2022, ranging from the nation’s largest state — California, fresh off a gubernatorial recall election — to the least populated state of Wyoming. And if the last year-and-a-half has shown anything, these governors’ races shouldn’t be playing second fiddle to Congress, either for voters’ attention or donors’ dollars.
“I think the pandemic, over the last year and a half, has been a really good time for people to realize how important their governors are,” said Marshall Cohen, the political director of the Democratic Governors Association. “These governors races are not national the way that federal races are, and each state is its own unique set of circumstances.”
POLITICO spoke with two dozen operatives deeply involved in the nation’s gubernatorial landscape — ranging from party leaders in Washington, D.C., to state party chairs and top aides to candidates in some of the most competitive states on the map — to define the 2022 map with a year to go.
The broad national environment still plays a role: Republicans are confident that, with the wind at their backs, they can flip governors’ mansions in battleground states. But gubernatorial races are also fought with more state-specific motivations in mind — on everything from the pandemic to education to local taxes — that allow for scenarios like Democrats defending a seat in the traditionally deep red Kansas, and for Republicans holding and fighting for several seats in the blue Northeast.
Both parties have pickup opportunities next year, though there are only a handful of open seats, with just three right now — Arizona, Maryland, and Pennsylvania — expected to be battlegrounds. Incumbents on both sides of the aisle have spent the last few years building sizable political operations and deep war chests, allowing the parties to spend on a more core battleground of states.
“I think the good thing for us is — if you look at our map — I don’t expect the vast majority of our incumbents are going to need our engagement next year,” said Dave Rexrode, the executive director of the Republican Governors Association, which is confident about defending sitting governors in large, pricey states like Texas and Ohio.
That means dumping tens of millions of dollars into just a handful of states instead of the 28 states Republicans were worried about in 2018. Democrats find themselves in the same situation.
“I think one of the things that puts us in a stronger position going into an incumbent cycle is that we’ve had such a long runway,” DGA executive director Noam Lee said. “These are teams we’re familiar with. These are operations we’ve helped build.”
The two parties largely agree on the scope of the core battlefield. Democrats’ top defensive targets will likely be the usual presidential battlegrounds of Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, along with Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly is the only Democrat seeking reelection in a state then-President Donald Trump carried last year.
Republicans, meanwhile, are on defense in Arizona and Georgia, with big question marks in a quartet of traditionally blue states that have nevertheless elected and reelected Republican governors recently.
“What are the top three states for them? Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan,” Rexrode said. “What are our big three states? Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan.”
An early test of the landscape is just a month away in Virginia. The state has long been considered a political bellwether ahead of midterm elections, where the off-year race has almost always historically swung against the party in power across the Potomac River.
But with more than a year to go until the midterms, these races aren’t completely set. More candidates are expected to jump into marquee races during the last quarter of this year and in early 2022, and some incumbent governors still need to decide if they will seek reelection.
The open seats
Arizona will likely be the most competitive open seat race in the nation next November, with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey term limited. Trump recently endorsed Kari Lake, a former local TV anchor. But thus far, that endorsement has not been a field clearer for Republicans. Former Rep. Matt Salmon remains in the race with the backing of Club for Growth, the anti-tax group that has typically aligned itself with Trump in primaries.
Other GOP candidates include state Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who is expected to be able to bring significant resources to bear for the race; state Treasurer Kimberly Yee; Steve Gaynor, the party’s 2018 nominee for secretary of state; and Daniel McCarthy, who now-former Sen. Martha McSally handily beat in a 2020 primary.
Looming over the race: the enduring, Trump-driven effort to reverse Republicans’ 2020 election losses in the state. That’s reinforced by the leading Democratic candidate, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, whose opposition to a flawed GOP-led review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County has boosted her national profile.
Democrats’ best pick-up opportunity is likely in Maryland, where Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is barred from running again. Before the general election, the GOP will signal the direction it is going in the blue state: Kelly Schulz, who serves as Hogan’s commerce secretary, and state Del. Daniel Cox, who has recently modeled himself as a Trump-style Republican and said he attended the rally that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, are both running. Other Republicans may soon get in — including Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor and Republican National Committee chair who has ardently opposed Trump.
The Democratic primary is expected to be a crowded one, with many candidates already in the race. The field includes two former Obama cabinet secretaries: Tom Perez, who was labor secretary and a former Democratic National Committee chair, and former Education Secretary John King. Other candidates include longtime state Comptroller Peter Franchot, former Prince George’s County executive Rushern Baker, former state attorney general Doug Gansler, well-known author Wes Moore, businessman Mike Rosenbaum, former nonprofit executive Jon Baron, and former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats are waiting for the all-but-certain announcement from state Attorney General Josh Shapiro that he’s running to replace term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf. Shapiro’s entrance is expected imminently, and he will be backed by a wave of institutional support.
A messy and uncertain primary awaits the GOP, one that could leave any potential nominee bruised up against an unscathed Shapiro. The already-crowded field includes former Rep. Lou Barletta, Montgomery County commissioner Joe Gale, former U.S. Attorney William McSwain, former Chester County Chamber official Guy Ciarrocchi, activist Charlie Gerow, and others. Some have formed exploratory committees, including state Sens. Scott Martin and Dan Laughlin, who is looking to run as a post-Trump moderate in a field that has largely embraced the former president.
And Republicans — including state Sen. Doug Mastriano, state Senate President Jake Corman and members of Congress like Rep. Mike Kelly — have all publicly toyed with the idea of running, meaning the field could get more crowded still.
The major battlegrounds
One party in Georgia is trying to keep itself together. The other is waiting for one woman’s decision.
Gov. Brian Kemp is besieged on both sides. Trump’s enmity for the first-term GOP governor is so strong that he told rallygoers in Georgia last month he’d rather have Kemp’s 2018 Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, in charge in Atlanta. But Trump has not gone so far as to back the campaign of Democrat-turned-Republican Vernon Jones, a former state representative, despite some members of his orbit backing Jones. Instead, Trump’s operation has tried to nudge former Sen. David Perdue into the race, and Kemp has been working to get the rank-and-file back into his corner even as the former president continues to attack him for not assisting him in overturning the 2020 election.
Abrams has been widely expected to run after her narrow loss to Kemp in 2018. She has yet to announce a decision, while she has kicked off a nationwide tour that does not visit her home state. No other Democrat in the state has dared to float a run while everyone awaits Abrams’ decision.
Republicans see Kansas as their best pick-up opportunity anywhere on the map. Nevertheless, Democrats are expected to fight hard for Gov. Laura Kelly, and outside groups like EMILY’s List have already signaled that they will be in her corner for the election, circulating early internal polling that has her above water in the state.
Republicans are largely united around state Attorney General Derek Schmidt. The party will likely avoid a competitive, drawn-out primary after former Gov. Jeff Colyer abruptly announced he was ending his campaign to seek treatment for a cancer diagnosis.
One issue to watch in Kansas is abortion. During the August 2022 primary, Kansans will vote for an amendment to the state constitution that would add that it “does not create or secure a right to abortion,” after the state Supreme Court found as much in 2019. This could supercharge the issue during a summer where the Supreme Court in Washington is already expected to revisit Roe v. Wade.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is among Republicans’ top targets in 2022, but the first-term governor has built a national profile since her election and has a formidable fundraising operation.
The Republican field to challenge her is already crowded. James Craig, who retired as head of the Detroit Police Department to challenge Whitmer, is seen as an early leader for the nomination, but not a field clearer. Other candidates include Tudor Dixon, a conservative media personality; Garrett Soldano, a chiropractor who led early protests opposing coronavirus measures from Whitmer; and Kevin Rinke, a businessman who launched an “exploratory committee” and has the capacity to self-fund. Some Republicans would like to see John James, who lost Senate races in 2018 and 2020, take a shot at Whitmer, too.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s battle for reelection in Nevada will likely fall into the top tier of competitive races in November, but first Republicans will need to pick their nominee. Former Sen. Dean Heller recently launched his campaign, which could resurface his sometimes-contentious relationship with Trump. He is joining a field that includes Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo; the party-switching North Vegas Mayor John Lee; Joey Gilbert, a former boxer and an attorney who was at the Jan. 6 insurrection, and others. A recent poll from the Nevada Independent found Heller and Lombardo in the top two spots, but neither has the nomination locked down. And the field might yet grow: GOP Rep. Mark Amodei recently said he was “torn” about running for governor or sticking around for the potential of serving in the House majority in 2022.
It is also worth watching for any intraparty squabbles among Democrats in the state. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) won control of the state party, widening a fissure between progressives and the remnants of the Reid Machine, which former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid corralled to make one of the most effective operations in the country. A splinter coordinated campaign is now being run out of Washoe County with the blessing of both Sisolak and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto —who also has a hyper-competitive election next year — while the state party has sprouted its own.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will have one of the most contested reelection fights in the nation, but the Democrat has already posted strong fundraising numbers in the off year and does not have any primary challengers standing in his way.
On the Republican side, the field remains unsettled: Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is considered a strong candidate, but GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s public indecision on whether he’ll seek reelection has left the field murky. Johnson at one point flirted with a gubernatorial run before ruling it out, but his indecision has frozen other could-be candidates including Kevin Nicholson, a businessman who finished second in the 2018 Senate primary. Should Johnson run for reelection, Nicholson would likely jump into the gubernatorial race.
The big four
The nation’s four largest states are less competitive — and possibly prohibitively expensive for the challenging party to try to compete.
In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom could face many of the same names he just vanquished in the state’s recall election last month. Some of the Republican candidates, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and right-wing radio host Larry Elder, are either already running or are considering bids — but the GOP has admitted that its potential statewide in the Golden State is basically non-existent for the foreseeable future.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has built a campaign machine that functionally never turns off, with tens-of-millions in the bank and Trump’s endorsement locked up. Even still, he has drawn primary challengers from former state party chair Allen West (who was a member of Congress representing Florida) and former state Sen. Don Huffines, among others. His allies expect him to easily blow by the primary field, but Democrats hope that the primary’s existence — and Trump needling the governor about the 2020 election — could expose Abbott.
On the Democratic side, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is widely expected to get into the race. Democrats view him as their best chance to take on Abbott during the cycle, citing his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and a fundraising apparatus that could rival Abbott’s. But Republicans welcome his challenge, arguing that O’Rourke’s failed presidential bid damaged his brand, and that Abbott is not nearly as vulnerable as Cruz was in a Democratic wave year. Actor Matthew McConaughey has also said he’s weighing a run. He’s made calls to influential people in Texas politics, including some moderate Republicans.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely believed to be positioning himself for a potential 2024 presidential run. But first, he’ll need to win reelection. Republicans argue that he is well positioned, despite drawing widespread attention for his handling of the pandemic — which includes withering criticism from many public health experts and Democrats. He has not formally announced his bid, but already has more than $50 million in the bank, with aspirations to raise scores of millions more for his campaign.
The Democratic race is a faceoff between state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Rep. Charlie Crist, who last won the governorship over a decade-and-a-half ago as a Republican before leaving the party for a failed Senate bid and a losing 2014 gubernatorial bid as a Democrat. Republicans hope that the late-Augustprimary will leave the eventual nominee damaged and cash-poor — making it an even tougher proposition to go against DeSantis without outside help, which could pull resources from elsewhere on the map.
Craig Medred News, October 5, 2021
Whether this will come as good news or bad news might depend on whether you are one of those Alaskans who fear global warming or secretly covets it, but the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports a minor climate change retreat in the Arctic this summer.
“The summer of 2021 was relatively cool compared to the most recent years and September (sea-ice) extent was the highest since 2014,” according to the September analysis released today.
The 1.9 million acres of ice at the end of last month was the 12th lowest in the 43 years of satellite observations, but that puts it among the iciest summers in recent years.
“The last 15 years (2007 to 2021) have had the 15 lowest September extents in the record,” according to the report.
Officially, the NSIDC said that September 16 marked the date at which the cover over the Arctic Ocean stopped declining and began increasing with coastal Alaska helping to lead the way.
“…Ice extent increased primarily in the Beaufort Sea region, with the large irregular open water region that existed in mid-September filling in with ice,” the report said.
Save the whales
One can only hope someone told the gray whales, given the calendar is now only two days shy of the Oct. 7, 1988 day when Inuit hunter Roy Ahmaogak found three of those whales trapped in the ice near Point Barrow.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made sure to confuse the outcome on the advice of its authorities on gray whales who privately said at the time that there was no way in hell that a couple of young grays whales that couldn’t make it through thin ice to the safety of the Bering Sea at the start of October were going to make it through tens of miles of broken ice to safety with the Arctic freezing fast.
By then, one of the whales had already disappeared and was presumed dead, given there was nowhere for miles around for an air-breathing mammals to find an opening in the ice to get air.
Its two earlier companions, meanwhile, were surviving only thanks to human efforts to keep a couple of holes open in the ice, and those were in danger of freezing any day.
The Russians, in the form of the then-Soviet Union, saved the day by sending an ice breaker to the “rescue.”
It busted up a bunch of ice. The whales were last seen in the broken ice in the ship’s wake. And NOAA, having refused to attach satellite-tracking devices to the animals because of the “stress” it might have caused them, declared victory.
When the whales left Barrow, the ice beyond the Russians was freezing solid almost as fast as they broke it up, which was then normal.
When winter comes to the Arctic, it has historically come fast and hard.
Many were the whalers of old, who like the young gray whales, ignored this reality, and paid the price.
The Whaling Disaster of 1871, which sunk 33 ships stuck in the ice, is credited with dealing the death blow to the whaling industry, although somehow, miraculously, the 1`,200 people on board those ships survived.
Those who ignored the history would not be so lucky.
“There were only 20 vessels in the fleet in 1876, largely as the result of the losses in previous years, particularly in 1871, and from the lack or reinvestment in new whaling ships by the owners.”
Many of them again ended up stuck in the ice. Some got lucky.
“Captured in the ice 20 miles offshore and being swept eastward along the coast of the Beaufort Sea, seeing that all hope of freeing the ships was lost, the captains reluctantly decided to abandon the ships and head for shore,” it is written on the NOAA website.
” Around 300 men, dragging whaleboats and as much of the ship’s provisions as they could, started across the jutting and craggy ice. Fifty men chose to stay with the ships, hoping to for a salvage windfall. The shoreward party finally arrived, exhausted from the trip, and sailed the whaleboats to Point Barrow, where they found the Three Brothers and Rainbow frozen in the ice but otherwise undamaged. They proceeded further down the coast to find the Florence, now also trapped by the ice.
“With the ice thickening, it appeared that the only option available to them was to overwinter, but all knew provisions were insufficient to get a group of this size through the winter, even supplementing with hunting. However, to the surprise of all, September 14th brought an unexpected lead in the ice, and the three ships were freed from the ice, the crews loaded aboard, and they raced for open water.
“While all of the assembled crews aboard these three ships were soon transported to safety, the same could not be said of the fifty that stayed behind. It was later learned that five men made it to shore, but only three survived the winter. So, unlike the events of 1871, not everyone walked away from this disaster. Only one of the abandoned ships was salvaged the following year.
“Nine more whaling ships were lost in the following three years, most survivors of the 1876 disaster. Clearly, the 1870’s was the most staggering blow to an industry in decline. Nearly 70 ships were lost during this decade, and most of the rest of the fleet did not come through unscathed, where even the vessels that escaped the ice were damaged in some way, some extensively. Changes and reinvestment would have to be made to sustain the industry, but with oil from the ground starting to be pumped, hard business decision would lie ahead.”
Warmer and friendlier
A lot has changed in the Alaska Arctic in the 150 years since, but the fact remains that the ice, which makes travel passable in places almost impassable in summer, is both a blessing and a curse.
That said, it can always be worse.
At the opposite end of the planet, the Antarctic this year saw its the coldest winter on record. The Antarctic winter comes in June, July, and August because of the annual tilting of the planet that decreases the southern hemisphere’s exposure to the sun at the same time it increases the northern hemisphere’s exposure.
A year after the Antarctic saw record heat, it saw record cold.
“Between April and September, a research station sitting on a high plateau in Antarctica registered an average temperature of minus 78 degrees Fahrenheit.”
That was one degree colder than the previous record which dates to 1976.
The polar vortex is being credited/blamed. Many Alaskans are familiar with the polar vortex (Arctic version) which not only spins winds around the planet’s poles but pushes them up and down over the polar regions.
The latter can either push cold, Arctic air south across the 49th state or pull warm Pacific Ocean air north across the 49th state.
The vortex has been messing with Alaska’s “normal” winter weather for a couple of decades now.
Newer Alaskans have become accustomed to somewhat balmier winters than the state has historically known. Is the pendulum now about to swing back a little in the opposite direction?
Who knows. No one has ever had much success at predicting the future.
That is warm for that part of the world.
The whales are safe. At least for now.