Thursday, July 30, 2015


I guess this is part 3 in my on-going discussion of the Shell Arctic Ocean oil exploration project. I'll be brief; it's up to you to do some reading, or not.

The Obama Administration has an energy policy they call the All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy. Here it is on the Whitehouse website:

On drilling for oil beneath the ocean, the Whitehouse website says:

Safe and Responsible Domestic Oil and Gas Production
In 2010, in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration launched the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history and put in place new safeguards to protect the environment. These measures help to ensure that our nation can continue to safely and responsibly develop offshore energy resources. The Administration continues to develop and implement a series of standards that will make oil and gas production and transportation safer, including in hydraulic fracturing, arctic drilling, and rail safety.

The Obama Administration has completely retooled the review and regulation of energy development in the USA. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has replaced previous agencies and consolidated numerous review and regulatory functions.

I found a FAQ on the BOEM website that has helped me understand oil spill risk in the Chukchi Sea, where Shell will be doing exploratory drilling. Here is the FAQ sheet: and I suggest reading it if you are interested in understanding the risk assessment.

And if you want to go a bit deeper, and look at a very interesting technical report about how risk is modeled, here is another link:

The federal agencies involved in reviewing and issuing permits for projects such as the Shell exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea have numerous experts in various scientific disciplines, as well as many other scientists at universities and science/engineering companies under contract. These reviews and permits are not conducted and issued by bean counters or anonymous clerks with rubber stamps!

OK, this is good stuff, keep up the conversation, and check your sources, of course.


People dangling from the St. Johns Bridge. Kayaktivists forming a blockade across the Willamette River.  The Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker trying to get out of Portland. Greenpeace activists and other greenies want to shut down Arctic Oil drilling.

I think we need to have a national conversation about the topic of energy policy, including sources, production and consumption. When it comes to hydrocarbons, we all use a huge variety of them every day. Look around you at this very moment. Anything made with plastic, polyester, nylon is made from hydrocarbons extracted from the ground. Almost everything you own is made somewhere else, and it has been transported to the store where you bought it, often from faraway places - have you ever heard of China? So I don't think we can simply stop using hydrocarbons.

Activists are protesting Arctic Ocean oil drilling (and drilling in other oceans), fracking, oil shale mining, Keystone pipeline, coal trains, oil trains, and other energy projects. But what is the Plan? Seriously. If all of these protests actually worked, what would we do for energy and all the materials we use made from hydrocarbons? Wind and solar are good alternatives, but not the complete answer.

As always, I like to use data to illustrate my points. Below are two graphs; one shows crude oil consumption in the United States, the next one shows the same for Sweden.  U.S. oil consumption has trended upward since 1980; Swedish oil consumption has declined drastically since 1980.   Sweden implemented a national policy with the goal of becoming the first European nation to be oil-free by 2020. (!) In 1970, oil accounted for 77% of Sweden's energy, by 2003 it was only 32%.  This difference reflects a difference in societal attitudes and government policy.

Is the Plan for energy policy in the United States based on delaying the Shell Oil icebreaker from leaving Portland? What about stopping the oil and coal trains; is that the new energy plan? Obviously not. The Plan has to start at the individual level and translate into a community and societal level. I don't have much faith in Americans to be rational and realistic about energy - there is little evidence for that. Sure, in liberal islands like Portland, Oregon there is a greater communal mindset that trends towards sustainability; however, we all know that this place is not the national norm.

So go ahead Greenpeacers, dangle from the bridge, fly your banners, paddle your kayaks, and more power to you - seriously. But until you show me The Plan for energy in the United States, and convince me that the majority of Americans are willing to think, act and purchase differently, I'll smile at your stunts, but I won't be out there with you.

In future posts I want to discuss what the Obama Administration has and is doing in terms of the energy plan. The present administration has actually accomplished a lot, even when faced with the Republican majority in Congress. Is drilling in the Arctic Ocean part of the plan? I think it is. I think the federal agencies that issued the permits for the drilling have imposed the most strict conditions ever included in these kinds of permits. The Shell project is exploratory, not production. If Shell demonstrates that drilling in the Arctic can be done safely and with minimal environmental damage, then we might see oil production there in 15 to 20 years. Keep in mind that all of the Arctic is not open to drilling, only very limited portions in a very cautious way.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Fishman. P. A., R. S. Caldwell, and A. H. Vogel. 1985. Lethal and sublethal effects of oil on food organisms (Euphausiid: Thysanessa raschii) of the bowhead whale. U. S. Dep. Commer., NOAA, OCSEAP Final Rep. 43(1986): 617-702. 

My co-authors and I wrote the above report 30 years ago, under a contract between my consulting firm, Fishman Environmental Services (1983 - 2004), and the Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment Program (OCSEAP). The report was published in Volume 43 of Final Reports of Principal Investigators, and included reports dealing with gray, Belukha and Bowhead whales in the oceans around Alaska. The OCSEAP spent many millions studying the environments of and potential ecological impacts on outer continental shelf areas under the future potential of oil and gas drilling and production.  

I thought about this project today as I looked at the news out of my city, Portland, Oregon, that a group of Greenpeace protesters are hanging by ropes from the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River in an effort to block the passage of a Royal Dutch Shell ice breaker that has been at a Portland shipyard for repairs. Shell intends to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic in an area between the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. This was the subject location of my 1985 report. 

So I guess I have a relationship with the protesters, Royal Dutch Shell, and drilling in the Arctic. Earlier today, in a short amount of internet search time, I found a 1990 environmental impact statement for an oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea that cited my report, and others, to support the conclusion that an oil spill from drilling for oil in the Arctic would not have significant effects on whales. OK, that’s cool. 

There is an adventure connected to the oil and euphausiid study my colleagues and I conducted. To do the research, I proposed collecting live euphausiids (or krill) in Alaska and transporting them to a laboratory in Newport, Oregon where tests could be conducted using Alaska crude oil. We arranged to have a barrel of Alaska crude oil shipped to Dick Caldwell’s lab in Newport where he set up the equipment to do the tests. I contracted with a graduate student in Juneau, Alaska to collect euphausiids with a plankton net towed behind a boat, pack plastic bags of seawater and the live animals in Coleman cooler chests with ice (might have been dry ice), and ship them to me in Portland on Alaska Airlines. I then drove the coolers to a meeting point about halfway between Portland and Newport, where Dick met me and took them to his lab. We did this 5 times between March and September of 1985.  

On one occasion, the euphausiids were put on a plane in Juneau and off-loaded in Seattle, as usual, to be then put on a plane from Seattle to Portland. I always called Alaska Airlines at each step to confirm that the coolers had been transferred and were on their way. On this trip, however, the coolers missed the flight to Portland. “Where are they?” I asked. “Sitting on the tarmac.” I was told. Me: “Can you put them in the cooler until the next flight?” Them: “We don’t have a walk-in cooler.” Me: “It is living material that is temperature sensitive, and it's a warm day, they will die!” Them: “Sorry, there is nothing we can do about it.” 

Well, in those days I didn’t have a corporate jet (I still don’t), so in desperation I did the next best thing; I called our friend Steve, a pilot with United Airlines. Me: “Hey Steve, are you busy?” Steve: “Not really, why?” Me: “How would you like to fly me to Seattle in your small private plane, pick up a bunch of Coleman coolers, and then we’ll fly them to Newport, Oregon?” Steve: “Sounds like fun; I’ll pick you up at your house and we’ll head to the airport.”  And so we did. The euphausiids were still alive when we got there, and they were fine when we got them to Newport and loaded them on Dick Caldwell’s pickup truck. 

By now you’re thinking, “OK, fine, nice story, but what does Fishman think about Royal Dutch Shell drilling in the Arctic Ocean?” Well, it’s a complex issue, and my answer isn’t definitive. If I had a choice, I would not drill for oil and gas in the Arctic if there were other sources for these hydrocarbons. If you do a bit of research, you will find that consumption of petroleum fuels (gasoline, jet fuel, etc.) is increasing in the United States and worldwide. To meet this demand, production of oil and gas is increasing. 

Here are some interesting data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA):

Shell, like the other players in the hydrocarbon industry, is looking at the long-term. If they find oil/gas beneath the Arctic ocean, it will take them about 15 years to get to the point of having production wells. Experts estimate that the resources beneath the Arctic oceans represent anywhere from 15-25% of untapped global oil reserves. As long as there is a market demand for petroleum, companies like Shell will find and produce it. Do we need petroleum hydrocarbons? Yes, and the demand for them is increasing. 

It all comes down to acceptable risk. Remember, one of the basic laws of ecology is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Wind and solar-generated power, electric and hybrid automobiles, LED light bulbs, recycling, LEED buildings, bicycles and all other sustainable things are the way to move forward, but each has a set of costs, including environmental ones. So we have to be smart. We have to think clearly about all of the connections (another basic law of ecology: everything is connected to everything else). We need to accept certain levels of risk in order to sustain human societies in an ever more modern and interconnected world.

The Greenpeace bridge-hangers are conducting a great stunt that is calling attention to the prospects of Arctic Ocean oil and gas development. Will their actions stop Royal Dutch Shell from drilling in the Arctic? Of course not. But I hope the stunt stimulates a wider conversation about energy consumption and sources, acceptable risk, and the bigger picture of human societies and the planet.


Thursday, June 25, 2015


Our dear friend Linda summed it up in a single statement the other night. We were having a group discussion about the murders in the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, and Linda spoke so passionately about the racism in America. At the end of her emotional comments, she stated emphatically "Come on species - get your act together!!" Exactly.

Another mass murder in America; but this time there was an important difference. This killing was motivated by racial hatred, and the killer said later that his intent was to start a race war in America. This is an act of terrorism, and we citizens of America need to stop, think, and carefully consider the iceberg under this tip.

Humanity, Homo sapiens, is a species of apes that has evolved a large brain that, combined with manual dexterity, has allowed it to develop into the dominant organism on Earth. Humans have reached the point at which our actions are changing the climate of the planet.  (I will leave for a future post the wide-ranging changes implicit in the term "climate change;" however, suffice it to say that every physical, chemical and biological system and process on Earth related to climate is being affected.)  Yes, we are such an advanced species of animal that we are making our own habitat less habitable.

But how advanced are we, really? Unfortunately,  closer examination leads us to conclude that we are not very advanced at all. Sociologically we are relatively primitive. We still cling to outdated ideas, mythologies and superstitions. We retain strong group bonds at various levels, bonds that often result in acts of cruelty. We are shocked to see on the news that ISIS has beheaded their captives - the barbarians! How convenient it is that we overlook the fact that good, white Christians have a history of beheadings, burnings at the stake, disembowelment, rape, torture and genocide. (No, I'm not part of the War on Christians; I'm simply using the Euro/American majority for my example.) Look around, and you will find that our mass behavior hasn't really changed so much, even though our technological achievements are rapid and astounding.

And this brings me (at last!) to the Confederate flag. I'm sorry to tell you that it's not about the frickin' flag. The Confederate flag is, and has been for a long time, an insult to everyone. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) stated that the flag is "who we are" for South Carolinians (to be fair, you should listen to his remarks in context here). That flag has a place in history, and it's fine to display it as part of telling that history. Flying the Confederate flag at the Statehouse in S.C. simply says; "This flag symbolizes our history of slavery and the war we proudly fought to preserve it."  Politicians in South Carolina have rushed to now remove the flag from the Statehouse - great - but this is not the story.

Walmart, Sears, Amazon, eBay and other retailers have announce that they will no longer sell items with the Confederate flag. Um, OK, but what took you so long? In other words, you've been selling this stuff up until now, but now you'll stop? So, the flag was not a problem, was not a symbol of slavery and racism, until a terrorist killed 9 Black Americans in their church? !!!

The Confederate flag is an insult to all of us when it is displayed by state or local government. But the flag is not the issue that needs our focus, and all the hoopla about it is a red herring meant to distract us from the real issues.

The main issue at play here is human nature. The fact that one human can brutally hurt or murder another innocent human is the real "who we are." If evolution can't change this behavior of our species, then we must consciously do it ourselves. The alternative to changing human behavior is a continuation of the human behaviors that result in hatred and murder. This has been for a long time, and continues to be the norm.

So yes Linda, I agree: "Come on species - get your act together!"

Thursday, June 18, 2015


It is still too early to know conclusively, but the killings at a church in Charleston,  South Carolina appear to be an act of terrorism. There is a dark underbelly in America, comprised of white people who are filled with racial hatred against Black, Jewish, Muslim and other Americans. In the Charleston case, a young white man shot and killed 9 people in an African-American church.

This isn't about gun control. This is possibly not about mental illness. This is about racial hatred expressed as an act of terrorism.

We Americans wonder how young people in other countries are attracted to join radical Jihadist groups, such as ISIS/ISIL/IS in Syria, Iraq and other areas. (And yes, even young people here in America.) What fills them with such hatred and zealotry that they can willingly kill innocent people and commit other acts of atrocity in the name of their god or their movement?  Well, an answer will likely be revealed as the investigation and trial of the young killer in Charleston proceeds. There are early indications that this young man had some connection to white supremacy literature and organizations, sources of hatred spread by adherents to recruit others to their cause. And their cause is to save the white race from the ravages of the "others."

We have so much work to do! The we I refer to are all Americans who are repulsed by hate-inspired acts carried out in our midst. This is not a problem solely for the African American community; this is a problem for the American community. Let's not get sidetracked; let us bring a laser focus to the issues of racism in America. We cannot allow hate groups to gain any foothold in society, and we must root them out where they already exist and expose them for what they are. At the same time, we need to shine bright lights on institutionalized racism in our society, and expose it for what it is.

We can do this. We have to do this. It has taken too long.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Congressman Devin Nunes, Republican from California, seems to think he can have it both ways regarding climate change. Nunes is a known climate change denier, one who poo-poos scientific facts concluding that human activity has resulted in drastic changes to our atmosphere and climate systems. But he has a different opinion when it comes to the California drought.

For the past several years, Nunes has been telling anyone who will listen, and speaking and blogging about the "man-made drought" in California. Aha; so he does believe the drought and other extreme climate events are caused by human activities releasing carbon into the atmosphere! Gotcha!

Well, actually, no. What Nunes is saying is that "this is a drought that's been created by government, by their big supporters in the radical environmental groups."  Oh. In his view it is the Endangered Species Act that is the culprit, because water is being kept in rivers for threatened and endangered fish, instead of being released to farmers for irrigation. Sure, there has been less rain and snow for a few years, but the government is holding back a lot of water for "3-inch bait fish" (the Delta smelt) and thus creating the drought that is so severely affecting farmers in California. Oh my......

How convenient to have someone to blame: the damn government and radical environmentalists. Yes, the Endangered Species Act, passed during the administration of, and signed by, President Richard Nixon (wasn't he a Republican?). Well, all of this righteous smoke about a smelt is really a red herring. The drought in California appears to be caused by natural phenomena. Is there a relationship between the drought and human-forced climate change? Probably not, as explained in a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report:

It is interesting that the Republicans have adopted "man-made drought" as one of their new mantras. Carly Fiorina uses it (Remember her? She drove HP into the ground before being fired as CEO, and now wants to be President of the USA.). John Boehner uses it. Lots of other Republicans use it. And, of course, they are tying it to the Obama administration.

So don't get excited when you hear the likes of Devin Nunes talk about the man-made drought in California He hasn't changed his deniers tune on climate change; he's just playing politics as usual.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Americans celebrate our revolution against tyranny and oppression every July. Yet we allow tyranny and oppression to exist in our everyday lives in the form of police brutality, hunger, poverty, disease, unemployment, homelessness and many others. 

Of particular notice in the media are the almost daily incidents of Black Americans, mostly young men, dying at the hands of police officers. Today the media are focused on Baltimore; tomorrow will be yet another American city. What is the cause, why is this happening, who is to blame? 

America is to blame. Racism is firmly institutionalized in the American system. Slavery and Jim Crow have been replaced by a more insidious and mostly hidden form of institutionalized racism that is difficult to put a finger on and even more difficult to root out. If you read past the headlines, you have at least a general sense of the issues in the Black neighborhoods of American cities. You certainly have seen the numbers of young Black Americans in prison or with prison records, mostly for crimes related to drugs. You have read about the level of unemployment, poverty, and lack of education of our young Black American men. Too many of us shake our heads in dismay, talk about how terrible this is, and move on to other things.

And all too often we blame "the police" for the problems. Yes, police brutality and excessive use of force are too prevalent in our cities. Yes, police departments across the country must be forced to change institutionally, and police culture must be changed drastically. In too many cities, the police departments include militarized units that in practice are occupational forces tasked with controlling the population, specifically in poor and minority neighborhoods. But the police are not the root of the problem.

The root of the problem is the American system that creates the poverty, unemployment and  substandard education that keeps a large segment of our fellow citizens in a state of subjugation. A variety of barriers are erected to keep these citizens separated from the more affluent segments of our society, and the police are given the job of maintaining that separation. As the desperation of the subjugated class grows, the level of repression increases in the form of violence by police officers. 

These are complex problems that need complex solutions. It is fair to say that government as we know it today is not going to solve these problems; if that were the case, we wouldn't be in this situation now. And rioting will not solve the problem, either. So what do we do?

First, by "we" I mean every American, not just Black Americans. We need to pull together over this set of issues and work within our communities to level the playing field. And all communities need to coordinate nation-wide to take actions at a national level, or that will get attention from national news media. We need to work together to get from a society of greed to a society of collaboration. We need to push our local economies to create living wage jobs and find ways to get people who need them into those jobs. We need to find ways to improve neighborhoods without forcing out the people already living in them (i.e. gentrification). We need to push our school systems to be inclusive and to act as community institutions that address the problems of poverty and education by lifting families as well as children. 

And that's my opinion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I am once again thinking about the health care system as I help my wife recover from back surgery. People always talk about their surgeon, and how fantastic he or she is. And this is usually, thankfully, true. The neurosurgeon and the anesthesiologist who conducted the back surgery on Sherry did a terrific job, and they were both friendly, caring and patient the times we met with them.

But the real kudos go to the nurses. Sherry was in the hospital for only 6 hours, but the nurses who cared for her, Steffanie, Kelly, Patty and student nurse Rachel were the front line staff who made the experience not just tolerable, but comfortable and, at times, even fun. They are professionals; they are also warm, friendly people who enjoy their jobs and are truly interested in the people to whom they provide care. So yes, my wife's surgeon was terrific, but her nurses were out of this world!

I learned recently that health care workers have one of the highest rates of work-related injuries.

Chicago, IL -(PRNewswire)- Workers in the healthcare industry suffer higher on the job injuries than most other professions, with more than two million reported lost work days in 2011. Despite this, the focus of safety in healthcare facilities has been primarily on patient safety, according to Safety Culture in Healthcare, The $13 Billion Case, a peer-reviewed feature in the October issue of Professional Safety, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) journal.
It seems that most hospitals put profit before the health of their staff (this includes the so-called not-for-profit hospitals). National Public Radio did a series on this topic. In my humble opinion, the big hospital systems are making big profits on the backs of their workers - literally. 
So let us all say hooray for nurses, nurses aides, orderlies and all other health care workers. And let's also protect the health of health care professionals. It's an old saying, but people before profit applies here.