In one of most ironic flip-flops in environmental history, the oil and gas industry is beginning to adapt to climate change. And it’s no wonder. The majority of industry’s infrastructure is located in some of the most climate vulnerable regions on the planet. Nearly 75 percent of the Alaskan pipeline, for example, is built over increasingly unstable permafrost, which is now thawing under warmer temperatures. The Mackenzie Valley in Canada alone has recorded over 2,000 sink holes, rock slides, and large depressions from thawing permafrost.
The pipeline’s famous elevated design was the result of a 20 year study (PDF) on the stability of climate and permafrost from 1950 to 1970. Based on the historic record, engineers designed the supports for the pipeline to withstand some fluctuation in permafrost, but not for the extensive melts now predicted. Indeed, that 20 year study was the one of the coldest periods in Alaskan history. Whoops. Now the supports for the Alaskan pipeline have to be upgraded for a changing climate, and, since the physical lines are heavily subsidized by federal and state governments, it is unclear who will pay.
Now the very industry that publicly denies the very reality of climate change, is looking to climate experts for help. They cooperated with consultants who analyzed oil and gas industry’s ability to absorb impacts from a changing climate. The resulting report was a terse assessment showing that the oil and gas industry was far behind the climate action curve.