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[ Arctic Oil Drilling Opens as Pitfalls Pondered Miles Away ]

Nearing record highs in March, gasoline prices have dropped for most of April across the U.S. and on average are cheaper than they were a year ago. As pump prices ease, federal prosecutors are turning up the heat in the BP oil spill case, arresting an ex-engineer accused of obstructing justice by deleting potentially damaging e-mails. And as the feds begin arrests, local reactions in the Gulf among individuals and businesses harmed by the spill are mixed, with oyster leaseholders “overjoyed” by the BP settlement, while shrimp processors are challenging some features of the deal. While watermen and women digest the settlement, Gulf of Mexico fish near the spill—such as grouper and red snapper—are showing telltale signs of sickness associated with oil exposure.

Across the world, a new pact by Russia and Italy has opened the Arctic to drilling. Some say an Arctic oil rush could damage ecosystems; others worry about the special challenges an oil spill in the Arctic would pose. Meanwhile, a new study says climate change is posing “significant challenges to the survival of some of the Arctic’s unique marine species.” And the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite is providing data on Arctic ice thickness—offering a more complete view of rapidly melting ice.

Climate Change Threatens to Alter Agricultural Landscape

Last weekend marked Earth Day, and some critics say the environmental movement has lost its mojo, while others were critical of President Obama’s Earth Day address after he failed to directly mention climate change. Later in the week, however, President Obama told Rolling Stone climate change will be a central feature of the presidential campaign. “I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” he said.

Beyond climate politics, a warming world will increase the cost of corn, according to a new study. The study warns that unless farmers plant more heat-tolerant varieties, corn prices will be subject to greater volatility. Another study suggests that scrapping corn ethanol subsidies and converting much of corn country to pasture for management-intensive grazing would reduce agricultural land-use emissions by 36 percent. Meanwhile, corn growers are speaking out about the “grave threat” climate change poses to their livelihoods.

While Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster is still fresh in many people’s minds, Ukraine recognized the 26-year anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion this week by unveiling a new, safer shelter over the damaged reactor. Others, such as Britain, continue to debate building new nuclear facilities.

Renewables Gaining Momentum with Farmers

Renewable energy makes economic sense, at least in Virginia, according to a new study. Across the country, Americans are split on whether to get rid of U.S. subsidies—with 47 percent favoring the idea.

More and more farmers are turning to renewables and earning the name “new green pioneers,” harvesting fuel cells, biogas, cogeneration and solar arrays to lower costs. While farmers embrace alternative energy despite time and risks, the solar energy industry has created a new plastic film that sprays on like an adhesive, enabling solar power to be harvested inside buildings and not just by way of conventional rooftop panels. Yet, the discovery of Native American bone fragments is throwing the large Genesis solar project into question.

Wind is not doing much better than solar, with a measure to extend production tax credits stalled in Congress despite bipartisan support. Uncertainty as to whether Congress will extend the credit is making it more difficult for developers to advance and fund wind projects. Offshore, the U.S. and Great Britain have announced plans to develop floating wind turbines in deep water where conventional technology cannot reach. Because the turbines do not require deep seabed installation, the technology is expected to be cheaper than current offshore wind projects. Despite the vagaries of renewable power, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on nations to double the amount of power produced from renewable sources by 2030.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday for National Geographic’s News Watch by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

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