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James Burgess

James Burgess

James Burgess studied Business Management at the University of Nottingham. He has worked in property development, chartered surveying, marketing, law, and accounts. He has also…

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Lasers Used to Protect Polar Bears from Arctic Oil Drilling

Oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is posing an ever greater threat to polar bears, but oil companies may now be able to use lasers to avoid intruding on the bears habitats, and protect the endangered species.

During the winter female polar bears dig large dens in which they give birth and raise their cubs throughout the winter months, yet these months are also prime time for oil explorers, who can sometimes unwittingly disturb the dens.

 illustration showing the basic layout of a polar bears maternal den.
An illustration showing the basic layout of a polar bears maternal den.

A team from the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Centre has discovered that by using Lidar, a remote sensing technology, they can identify 90-95% of all dens, a far greater success rate than previous methods were able to offer.

Related article: Canadian Arctic Port Presses Forward on Oil Exports

Benjamin Jones, from the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Centre, explained that “a lot of oil and gas exploration happens in the winter — that's when bears are in their dens, rearing their young.”

Climate change threatens the polar bears habitats, with the thinning ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas forcing the bears further inland where they come into greater contact with humans and oil and gas operations.

Polar Bear Cub

George Durner, also from the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Centre, said that the “polar bears enter the maternal den in November and exit the den in late March or early April.”

The cubs are generally born in January, but are completely helpless, relying on the warmth of the mother and the protection of the den. The first few months of uninterrupted time in the den are vital for the cub’s survival, but unfortunately winter is also a popular time for Arctic oil exploration. The ice roads are stable, allowing trucks, and heavy equipment to move around and venture out to remote areas. Sometimes the vehicles can disturb, or drive over dens.

Radar and high-resolution aerial photography used to be used to identify the likely locations of dens, which were then confirmed by land surveys, but neither technique was infallible, meaning that many dens were missed. Lider should allow oil and gas explorers to work alongside polar bears in a much less intrusive manner.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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