Posts tagged ‘Arctic oil drilling’

COUNTER TERRORISM: U.S. Facing Continued Terrorist, Overseas Stability Threats

Security Challenges

Official seals of members of the U.S. Intelligence Community (ODNI photo via Wikipedia)

Official seals of members of the U.S. Intelligence Community
(ODNI photo via Wikipedia)

The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and other leaders of the U.S. Intelligence community, known in Washington as the IC, were up on Capitol Hill this week to present their assessment of the global and regional threats facing the country.

But Clapper’s less-than-honest testimony before Congress last year about cell phone data collection seemed to gather most – but not all – of the news media attention – along with his continuing concerns about the disclosures of rogue National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

So 4GWAR would like to focus on the range of threats the IC – which includes the Office of National Intelligence, the NSA, CIA, FBI, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center – believes are facing the United States as of January 15, 2014 (when their assessment report was completed).

Global threats listed by the 31-page public report include cyber attacks by hostile nations like Iran and North Korea, terrorist organizations and criminals; homegrown and international terrorist plots by groups like al-Qaeda branches like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; transnational organized criminal groups like the Mexican drug cartels that are expanding their influence across the Atlantic Ocean to West and North Africa.

“Competition for and secure access to natural resources (like food, water and energy) are growing security threats,” the report states. Risks to freshwater supplies are a growing threat to economic development in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia and that could have a destabilizing effect not only on local economies but on governments and political institutions in many places where democracy is fragile or non-existent.

As polar ice recedes in the Arctic, “economic and security concerns will increase competition over access to sea routes and natural resources,” according to the report. Vast deposits of oil and natural gas – as much as 15 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum and 30 percent of its natural gas may lie beneath Arctic waters where the ice is receding more and more each year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The report predicts Sub-Saharan Africa will “almost certainly see political and related security turmoil in 2014.” The continent has become “a hothouse for the emergence of extremist and rebel groups,” threatening governments in Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania.

National Operations Center (Dept. of Homeland Security photo)

National Operations Center
(Dept. of Homeland Security photo)

The report also notes the attacks in Somalia and East Africa by the extremist Islamic al-Shabaab movement as well as sharp ethnic/religious/economic divides that are causing death, destruction, starvation and and mass migration in Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

4GWAR will have more on this report this weekend.

January 31, 2014 at 2:07 pm Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: AeroVironment Tests Solar Powered Small UAV (UPDATE)

News from AUVSI 2013 (UPDATES with additional quotes and Insitu ScanEagle certification to fly in Arctic)

Unmanned air vehicle (UAV) maker AeroVironment has been making a lot of news lately.

The Monrovia, California-based company makes a line of small UAVs including the 13-pound RQ-20A Puma, the smaller RQ-11 Raven and the Wasp micro air vehicle (MAV). All three are man portable and launched by hand — almost like a paper airplane.

A Marine launches a Puma UAV by hand in Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

A Marine launches a Puma UAV by hand in Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

Your 4GWAR editor was interviewing David Heidel, AeroVironment’s business development manager, at this week’s robotics and unmanned systems conference in Washington when he brought up the company’s plans to make unmanned aircraft in India.

AeroVironment has signed an agreement to team up with Indian aerospace and automotive manufacturer, Dynamatic Technologies to make small UAVs. Potential customers include India’s Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs.

“International is a target of ours. We had significant [international sales] growth at the end of last year. We’re in over 24 countries right now,”  Heidel said. “We see this as a big opportunity and a big step to form a teaming agreement with an organization to do local manufacturing,” he added during our interview at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

In a press release, Udayant Malhoutra, Dynamatic’s CEO and managing director said teaming with AeroVironment is strategic to our efforts to build capabilities in the Aerospace Segment.” He cited “the combination of AeroVironment’s technical capabilities and unmatched experience in unmanned aircraft systems and Dynamatic’s precision engineering capabilities.”

At AUVSI, we also discussed the big news of the week for small UAVs:  the test flight of a solar-powered Puma AE (All Environment) UAV, which stayed aloft for over nine hours. That’s more than four times the standard flight time of the battery-powered Puma AE.

Solar Puma launch in July. (AeroVironment photo)

Solar Puma launch in July. (AeroVironment photo)

On that project, AeroVironment is working with Alta Devices, a Sunnyvale, California manufacturer of thin, flexible solar cells. “It was a standard Puma platform with the solar technology of Alta integrated into the wings,” said Heidel. He said the flight test in July also included a new AeroVironment long endurance battery that extended the Puma’s normal two-hour flight to three hours and then the small UAV flew another six hours and 11 minutes using solar power. (Please click on the photo above to enlarge the image and get a better look at the solar panels on the Puma’s wings.)

In other AeroVironment news, the Army has ordered $13.5 million in Raven UAVs as well as spare parts. It was the fourth and final part of a 2012 contract valued at $59.6 million.

And AeroVironment has won certification from the FAA to fly the Puma AE as one of the few UAVs allowed to operate in the national airspace for commercial purposes. AeroVironment is expected to fly Pumas in the Arctic to monitor oil spill response.

We forgot to mention earlier that another UAV manufacturer, Insitu, also received FAA approval to fly its catapult-launched ScanEagle from a ship in Arctic waters. The larger and heavier (44 pounds) ScanEagle will be surveying ice floes and whale migration in areas of planned oil exploration, according to our friends at Aviation Week’s ARES blog.

August 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

ARCTIC: NORTHCOM’s Arctic plans, Alaska Oil Drilling,

NORTHCOM looks North

Coast Guard photo

Coast Guard photo

Increased activity in the Arctic — brought on by the decrease in icebound waters during the summer months — could lead to more requests for U.S. and Canadian military assistance to other government agencies, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) says.

U.S. Army Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today (March 19) that “other traditional military actors” are already setting priorities for the region. For example: Russia is actively recapitalizing its Arctic-focused fleet. And China — which doesn’t even have any territory in the Arctic, but is looking for maritime short cuts in the High North to cut the travel time of its merchant ships — is acquiring a second icebreaker. The U.S. has two ice breakers — the Healy and the massive Polar Star, both based in Seattle — far from the Arctic.

In his testimony before the committee, Jacoby — who also commands the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — said NORTHCOM and NORAD have signed an agreement with the Canadian Joint Operations Command to support other government departments and agencies “in response to threats and hazards in the region when requested or directed.”

Sea lanes across the Arctic have been opening up with the summer melt of sea ice in recent years. For the first time, this accessability is expected to draw more oil drilling, commercial fishing, shipping activity and sightseeing in the harsh environment (See March 6 posting on 4GWAR)

Jacoby also said U.S. military leaders were reaching out to engage with the Russian military, which has been expanding its modernization and training efforts “that extend the range of patrol activities by their air forces.”

The fourth annual Vigilant Eagle counter hijacking exercise between the U.S. and Russia is slated for August 2013. It will be a live-fly exercise involving a variety of NORAD and Russian military aircraft.

Fix it, or Lose it

The U.S. government is banning Shell Oil from drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic waters until it overhauls how it manages it’s drilling operations.

In one of his last acts before leaving office, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a press conference call March 14 that the oil company  “screwed up” its preliminary drilling operations in 2012 and would not be allowed back until the oil giant developed an integrated management plan.

Salazar’s decision came after a new report found that Shell’s contractors were repeatedly ill-prepared to meet the demands of operating in the harsh Arctic environment, the Los Angeles Times reported.

During its first efforts in the Chukchi and  Beaufort seas, Shell suffered a number of mishaps including the grounding of its Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska. Another Shell drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Shell has already said it will not be coming back to drill in Alaskan waters until 2014.

The grounding of Shell’s Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska was the most heavily publicized incident in a season plagued with misadventures. Shell’s second drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, drifted and came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the report said, because of contractor Noble Corp.’s use of “only the minimum amount of anchor chain” and failure to have a contingency plan for bad weather.

The report’s harshest criticism was directed at Shell’s management of its contractors, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper site said. “The review said the company failed to make sure its contractors were up to operating in Arctic conditions, the Guardian reported.

March 20, 2013 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC: New Sea Routes Possible, Oil Drilling a Little Less So

Busy Arctic by 2050?

Arctic Regions_500By 2050, according to a new scientific report, warming climate is expected to create new sea routes through the once impenetrable ice of the Arctic, Reuters reports.

Increasingly warm temperatures could also make the Northwest Passage in the waters north of Canada an economically viable shipping route. Now, only at the end of most summers is it passable. The ice could also open up a route — for medium icebreakers — directly over the North Pole by mid-century, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That’s welcome news for countries like China that would like to take a shorter Arctic route to export their manufactured export goods to Europe. But other countries, like Canada, worry about retaining sovereignty over their Arctic coast and the mineral wealth projected to lie beneath the frigid waters. The change in Arctic sea ice has increased concerns about a Cold Rush to the High North for untapped reserves of oil, other mineral resources and fish — sparking future international boundary and right-of-way disputes.

There is also concern about the difficulties of mounting an oil spill cleanup or search and rescue operation in the remote and still hostile environment.

The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth because sun-reflecting, light-colored ice is frequently replaced by sun-absorbing dark-colored water. The result: more melting ice.  Last September, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Arctic sea ice had melted to its lowest recorded level.

“Because of this, activity in the most remote reaches of Alaska continues to evolve and grow,” Admiral Robert Papp said in his annual State of the Coast Guard address last month. That  activity includes planned oil drilling “in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, foreign tankers using the northern sea routes which transit through the Bering Strait and Sea, and small cruise ships pressing even further into the Arctic,” the Coast Guard commandant added.

The nearest Coast Guard facility to the Arctic is Kodiak Air Station, Alaska — nearly 1,000 miles away by air. Last year, Papp deployed a National Security Cutter and two ocean-going buoy tenders that can navigate icy waters to the polar region as part of the nine-month Arctic Shield exercise. Two MH-60 helicopters were also located temporarily at Barrow, 300 miles above the Arctic Circle.

Papp said he would be issuing the first comprehensive Coast Guard Arctic Strategy this month.

Shell: Wait ’til Next Year

After two of its drilling ships got banged up in Alaska’s waters last year, Royal Dutch Shell oil company says it won’t be returning to the Arctic in 2013 to drill for oil. But in a statement, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum said it was only a “pause” in its exploration drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

“Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop,” the Feb. 27 statement said. Two Shell oil drilling ships were damaged and have been towed to Asia for repairs leaving too little time for their return for the company to commence drilling operations in the short summer season.

The Interior Department, the Coast Guard and the Justice Department are all reviewing Shell’s operations in Alaskan waters — including weather delays, environmental and safety delays, the collapse of it’s spill-containment equipment, the New York Times reported.

The Washington Post reported that Shell’s drilling barge Kulluk was damaged after it ran aground in a storm off Alaska’s Kodiak Island two months ago. Last July, another drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, nearly ran aground at Unalaska Island, Alaska, after dragging its anchor.

Shell has invested more than $4.5 billion on its Alaska drilling venture after a multi-year effort to convince federal officials it could drill safely in the Arctic.

U.S. Coast Guard A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter hovers above the National Security Cutter Bertholf during Operation Arctic Shield 2012. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Tamargo)

March 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm Leave a comment


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