Tag Archives: Greenland

Jumping off the Edge into the Ocean: Hydrazine

Europe’s space agency is defending plans to launch two satellites that would drop a rocket stage likely to contain highly toxic fuel in some of the most ecologically sensitive waters of the Canadian Arctic… North Water Polynya between Baffin Island and Greenland Inuit have said those plans treat seas…as a garbage dump.

On October 13, 2017, the European Space Agency plans to launch the Sentinel 5P satellite, an environmental probe designed to monitor trace gases in the atmosphere. A second launch of a similar satellite is planned for 2018.  The second stage of both rockets are expected to splash down in water that is part of Canada’s exclusive economic zone.  Both will use Soviet-era rockets fuelled by hydrazine. The fuel is a carcinogen and causes convulsions, nervous system damage, kidney and liver failure in humans.

Hvistendahl, representative of European Space Agency, said unused fuel will be destroyed before it reaches the ocean. Re-entry temperatures are much higher than hydrazine’s boiling point, he said.  “The structural parts lose their integrity and, by melting, the destruction of the stage occurs. Six kilometres above ground the propellant components have completely burnt up.”

Michael Byers, a Canadian academic who has just published research on the launch in a top Arctic journal, questioned those assurances.  “The ESA is making lots of assumptions about what happens to the residual (fuel) in these returning rocket stages,” he said Friday in an email. “Unless they have real science that proves their assumptions, they should not be taking chances with Inuit lives and the Arctic environment.”  In his paper, published in Polar Record from Cambridge University, Byers cites extensive evidence suggesting that instead of burning, hydrazine forms fine droplets that settle on the Earth below.  Byers quotes a UN report that found “the products of combustion and non-combusted remains of fuel and oxidants falling from the height of 20–100 kilometre spread and land over thousands of square kilometres.”The rocket stage could be carrying up to a tonne of unused hydrazine as it falls, the paper says.  It will drop into the North Water Polynya, an 85,000-square-kilometre ocean that is free of ice year-round. It shelters most of the world’s narwhal, as well as about 14,000 beluga whales and 1,500 walrus, bowhead whales, polar bears, seals and tens of millions of seabirds…

In his paper, Byers points out there have been 10 such launches dropping rocket stages into the North Water Polynya over the last 15 years.  Nearly every country in the world, including Russia, has stopped using hydrazine. He said Europe launched a very similar satellite earlier this year with a rocket using a much safer fuel.

Excerpts from European satellite splashdown in Canadian Arctic probably toxic, Canadian Press, Oct. 6, 2017.

Oil Drilling in the Arctic: Environmental Commandoes weapon freedom of information

Armed Danish commandoes are thought to have been landed on a giant oil rig by helicopter to prevent environmentalists interfering with a British oil company’s controversial exploration of deep Arctic waters. In a stand-off in the Davis Strait, west of Greenland, the Danish navy has been shadowing the Greenpeace ship Esperanza as it tracked the 53,000 tonne Leiv Eiriksson in iceberg-strewn sea to the site where it plans to search for oil at depths of up to 5,000ft.  The confrontation between Denmark and Greenpeace, which argues that it is dangerous to drill for oil in pristine Arctic waters, follows the decision by Scottish oil company Cairn Energy to explore for oil and gas in Baffin Sea this summer.

Fears that an Arctic spill would be difficult if not impossible to clean up were confirmed in an email exchange between the British Foreign Office and the energy secretary, Chris Huhne, that was obtained by Greenpeace under freedom of information legislation. Officials briefed Huhne, saying: “It is difficult to get assistance in case of pollution problems in such areas, and near impossible to make good damage caused.”…Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace UK said: “These documents make it clear that companies like Cairn are playing Russian roulette with one of the most important environments in the world. When even the UK government recognises the huge risks associated with the oil drilling in the Arctic then it must be time to halt the rush for oil in one of the most delicate ecosystems in the in the world.”

Cairn says it has prepared comprehensive oil spill plans, and has put up a bond of $2bn. Last month it said in a statement: “Wherever it is active, Cairn seeks to operate in a safe and prudent manner. The Greenlandic Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum has established some of the most stringent operating regulations anywhere globally, which mirror those applied in the Norwegian North Sea. Cairn respects the rights of individuals and organisations to express their views in a safe manner.”

Seven major oil companies have licenses to explore off Greenland but Cairn will be the only one to begin operations in the short July-October “summer window” when the ice has retreated. Cairn holds 11 licences covering over 80,000 square kilometres and plans to drill four exploratory wells to depths of around 5,000ft, the deepest ever attempted in the Arctic.

Fears that Greenpeace plan to prevent work have been heightened since the group occupied one of Cairn’s drilling ships working in shallower Arctic waters last years, and 11 climbers also boarded the Leiv Eiriksson, when it left Turkey for Greenland last month. Greenpeace also tried to stop the rig as it passed Greece and Italy last month but was prevented by storms.

Excerpt, John Vidal, Danish commandoes wade into Greenpeace Arctic oil protest,Guardian, May 24, 2011